By Mariko Katsumura and Shinichi Uchida
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s newest star investor has no car or hobbies and rarely eats out. But Toshiya Imura has turned an obsession for stock research into $42 million in returns, giving the former comedian an enthusiastic fan base and a chance to launch his own fund.
After years as an investor and stock market YouTuber, the38-year-old had a break-out moment last year when he figured in regulatory filings as a large shareholder of coal producers Sumiseki Holdings and regional lender First Bank of Toyama.
Small investors took notice and piled into the companies,which have become known as “Imura stocks”. Shares of First Bank of Toyoma have nearly doubled over the last year, while Sumiseki’s almost trebled. Tokyo’s broad TOPIX index has fallen 6%.
Mitsui Matsushima Holdings, another coal producer whose filing showed Imura as a major shareholder in 2021, has also seen its shares surge in the past year.
Imura’s fans say his ability to drill into financialstatements separates him from other investors.
“He’s just incredibly good with his due diligence andanalytical skills,” said 51-year-old Yasumasa Yamada, who raisedhis holding in Sumiseki after learning of Imura’s position.
“He doesn’t simply read disclosures. He also analysesthings that are hidden behind the numbers, such as how excess labour costs could weigh on long-term performance.”
Imura began investing in 2011, when he was working part-timeto support his comedy gigs that paid just $220 that year.
Starting with his savings of 1 million yen ($7,700), he has more than doubled his returns each year since 2019. Returns trebled in 2022, for a total of about 5.5 billion yen so far.
Imura said he pores over company filings, looking forevidence of changes to the business environment or other factorsthe market may not yet have priced in.
“I devote all my waking hours to investment,” he told Reuters in an interview. “I believe nobody else in Japan spends this much time on stocks.”
He shut down his YouTube channel in 2020 to focus more oninvesting, he said.
Although much of his strategy is rooted in the valueinvesting made famous by Warren Buffett – he cites BenjaminGraham’s “The Intelligent Investor” as an influence – Imura alsolooks for undervalued companies within a promising sector that are hidden from most investors’ radar.
“Good business performance alone can’t become alpha,” hesaid, referring to the returns on an investment that exceed abenchmark.
Imura said he likes coal producers because he believes they have been undervalued by the focus on clean energy. Regional banks will remain attractive due to expectations of higher interest rates in Japan, he said.
His deep dive into financial reports and sector analyses is crucial, he said, as he prefers to concentrate on a few choice stocks rather than spreading his funds thin.
He also nudges companies for change, and in a recent victory – albeit a minor one – he got Mitsui Matsushima to move the time of its earnings release to the market’s close, to give smaller investors more time to digest the numbers.
Mitsui Matsushima, Sumiseki and First Bank of Toyama all declined to comment when asked about Imura.
He now plans to start his own fund this year, with someinitial funding from his own wealth, and will team up with aformer institutional investor he admires. He declined to name his future partner.
It will be called the “Japan Release Fund”, with the idea being that it will unleash investment opportunities and benefits to Japanese households.
“I want my investment activities to have some sort of socialmeaning,” he said.
The son of a professor, Imura became a comedian aftergraduating with a degree in systems engineering.
He later became one-third of the comedy act Shimbun, whichmeans newspaper. In 2011, the group made it to the semi-finals of “King of Conte”, a popular TV show that showcases up-and-coming comedians. They disbanded six years later.
Like the famously frugal Buffett, Imura is also thrifty,taking public transport in Tokyo and regularly eating eggs,bananas and “natto”, or fermented soybeans, for their “costperformance”.
(Reporting by Mariko Katsumura and Shinichi Uchida; Editing by David Dolan and Clarence Fernandez)