Japan: Shareholder returns set to hit record levels this fiscal
Japan: Shareholder returns set to hit record levels this fiscal. Reuters

Shareholder returns in Japan, where companies are sitting on a mountain of cash, are poised to hit record levels this financial year, according to Goldman Sachs.

Annual dividends are expected to reach their highest level ever of 9tn yen (£49bn, €66bn, $76bn) in the financial year ending 31 March, up from 8tn yen in the preceding year. Japanese firms announced share buybacks totaling 2.5tn yen between April and December 2014, up 116% on year.

A corporate sector that is more proactive about investor returns is "quite revolutionary in Japan's context," Kathy Matsui, managing director and chief Japan strategist at Goldman Sachs, told CNBC on 16 February.

In a note published over the weekend, Goldman Sachs wrote: "Faced with growing pressure to improve capital efficiency, Japanese companies have become increasingly conscious of corporate governance and the need to deliver higher returns to shareholders as their earnings have recovered."

Goldman said: "One of the most overlooked areas of PM [Shinzo] Abe's reform agenda remains corporate governance.

"... the corporate governance code announcement fuels interest in returns to shareholders as a component of governance."

Governance reform

In December 2014, Abe's government put out a draft of the planned 'corporate governance code', which seeks to increase the number of outside directors and promote greater concern for shareholders.

Last February, Tokyo introduced the Japanese Stewardship Code, which calls on shareholders to divulge how they vote at annual general meetings, engage more actively with company management and quiz firms on issues such as low dividend payouts.

In January 2014, the Japan Exchange Group and Nikkei rolled out the JPX-Nikkei 400 share average, which picks stocks based on high return on equity (ROE) and good governance.

The Japanese Stewardship Code was inspired by the UK Stewardship Code, which was formulated post the global financial crisis of 2008.