The Japanese Juggernaut Rolls On

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. — French expression

They don’t make much money, but they sure make a lot of stuff. — Down East Maine expression

Rumors of my demise have been much exaggerated. —Mark Twain

After years of observing U.S. industry under siege from foreign competitors, U.S. managers, shareholders, and business journalists have changed their mood from deepest gloom to near-euphoria. U.S. companies are reporting record profits, while the Japanese barely break even. Honda no longer has the best-selling auto model in North America, market share in the domestic U.S. vehicle market is no longer being eroded by Japanese firms or their U.S. transplant subsidiaries, and Chrysler has novel problems arising from a seemingly huge cash mountain. The Japanese invasion in personal computing and software has been conspicuously absent; indeed, there are few sectors of world business in which U.S. firms today are more dominant. And the once feared disappearance of the U.S. semiconductor industry has been replaced by dominance in microprocessors and even a respectable comeback in basic “chips.”

If these company and industry successes are not enough to demonstrate a comeback, the United States is experiencing robust economic growth, while Japan struggles with a protracted, unprecedented postwar recession. U.S. firms are leaner and meaner. “Quality” is no longer a Japanese monopoly. Moreover, the dollar is far down and the yen is up. Ergo, U.S. firms are more competitive than they have been in a decade or two. The Wall Street Journal has pronounced “America ascendant.” The World Economic Forum has declared “America on top.” The U.S. National Association of Manufacturers has weighed in with nearly as triumphant a tone. And The Economist, with only slightly greater uncertainty, heralds “the fading of Japanophobia.”1

World Market Shares

In light of all this good news for U.S. industry, we might expect to see noticeable reversals in the continual gains since the 1960s in major Japanese firms’ shares of world markets in industries such as autos and trucks, chemicals, computers and office equipment, electrical equipment and electronics, iron and steel, nonelectrical machinery, textiles, and tires and rubber. An avid reader of the business and financial press, I expected to find those reversals when I updated (through 1993) the company-based data I had been using to track changes in world market shares in these and other industries since 1960.<

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References

1. R.T. King and S.K. Yoder, “America Ascendant: U.S. Companies’ New Competitiveness,” Wall Street Journal, 8 September 1994, p. A1, and 9 September 1994, p. A1;

“America on Top,” The Economist, 10 September 1994, p. 81;

E. Faltermayer, “Competitiveness: How U.S. Companies Stack up Now,” Fortune, 18 April 1994, pp. 52–64; and

“The Fading of Japanophobia,” The Economist, 6 August 1994, pp. 21–22.

2. L.G. Franko, “Multinationals: The End of U.S. Dominance,” Harvard Business Review, November–December 1978, pp. 93–101;

L.G. Franko, “Global Corporate Competition: Who’s Winning, Who’s Losing, and the R&D Factor as One Reason Why,” Strategic Management Journal 10 (1989a): 449–474;

L.G. Franko, “Unrelated Diversification and Global Corporate Performance,” in A.R. Negandhi and A. Savara, eds., International Strategic Management (Lexington, Massachusetts: Lexington Books, 1989b);

L.G. Franko, “Global Corporate Competition II: Is the Large American Firm an Endangered Species?” Business Horizons, November–December 1991, pp. 14–22.

3. Using 1973 as a base year, Goldman estimated a January–March 1994 PPP yen/dollar rate at ¥216/$ using consumer prices; ¥158/$ using producer prices; and ¥92.4 using Japanese export prices versus U.S. producer prices. See:

Goldman Sachs, “Japan Research: Research Review,” 18 July 1994, p. 4.

4. W. Dawkins, “When Neighbours Make Good Returns: The Yen’s Rise Is Encouraging a Strategic Shift by Japanese Industry into Other Asian Markets,” Financial Times, 15 July 1994, p. 13.

5. See “Cash Is King for Corporate Japan,” Business Week, May 1, 1995, p. 37; and Value Line, various issues.

6. For historical capital expenditure and cash flow patterns of the companies mentioned, see Value Line, various issues.

7. On the importance of R&D as a “driver” of long-term world market share, see: Franko (1989a).

8. “The Global Patent Race Picks Up Speed,” Business Week, 9 August 1993, p. 57.