Shohei Ohtani is a baseball phenomenon. Before his move to the Major Leagues, the Los Angeles Angels star was known as the “dual wielder” in his native Japan for his rare ability to hit home runs about as well as he pitches.
Now, as the U.S. takes note of his prodigious ability, some market watchers in Japan are eyeing a third skill — the ability to boost share prices.
An equal-weighted basket of five of his sponsors — including sportswear-makers Descente Ltd. and Asics Corp. — has risen 23% since Ohtani made history on April 26 as the first player in nearly 100 years to start a game as a pitcher while leading MLB in home runs. That’s more than double the Bloomberg World Apparel Index’s 10% rise over the same period and crushes the Topix index’s 1% gain.
“He pitches, hits and lifts shares,” said Shoichi Arisawa, an analyst at Iwai Cosmo Securities Co. “He’s triple-wielding.”
In a market that obsesses over the overseas exploits of its homegrown sports stars, Ohtani’s every move is watched in Japan, and this season he is excelling. Known to fans as “ShoTime,” he has been called a “generational talent” and hailed as the “next Babe Ruth.”
While no one is suggesting he is solely responsible, his success is being credited with helping lift the shares of some of his sponsors back home, such as Descente, which surged 63% in June alone.
A unit of Warren Buffett-backed trading house Itochu Corp., the company has had a contract to supply Ohtani with training wear since 2014, the year after he made his pro debut in Japan for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.
“Descente is showing a little of the Ohtani effect,” Arisawa said. “Looking at the stock price, it overlaps with when he really started to perform.”
As well as wearing Descente gear, Ohtani’s success has made people take notice of other factors helping the stock, including a recovery in consumption, he added.
Descente added as much as 2% in Tokyo trading on Friday, as Ohtani was picked as the designated hitter for the All-Star Game, to be played on July 13 in Denver. He is just the fourth Japanese player to be voted into the All-Star team, local media said.
The shares of Japanese sports brands are also rising amid a confluence of factors. Strong earnings from industry bellweather Nike Inc. last week pushed its stock to an all-time high in the latest sign that consumers are spending more than expected as the pandemic eases in much of the world.
More of Japan’s sports stars are also boosting their profile abroad and winning the biggest competitions, with tennis star Naomi Osaka now the world’s highest earning female athlete (her sponsors include Yonex Co. and Nissin Foods Holdings), while earlier this year, Hideki Matsuyama became the first Japanese man to win the Masters golf tournament (his supporters include Nomura Holdings Inc. and Recruit Holdings Co.).
There’s also the approaching Tokyo Olympics. While the games have faced criticism and will take place without foreign fans, they’ll be watched by an audience of billions and are also expected to provide a boost to Tokyo real estate.
For Descente in particular, rather than just Ohtani or the Summer Olympics, Tim Morse of Asymmetric Advisors points to the Winter Games, which will be held in Beijing in February. The company has a joint venture with Anta Sports Products, which is boosting stores in China ahead of the games.
“There is a growing realization that China could quickly become the major earnings at Descente,” he said.
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