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Tuna Demand Lures Japanese Investors Chasing 7% Return Japan, March 14, 12

Institutional investors and regional banks have poured at least 23 billion yen ($280 million) into about a dozen funds aimed at boosting exports of Japanese foods. Four are managed by Daisuke Mori, a former Citigroup Inc. (C) banker who has pooled 10 billion yen to invest in projects including tuna farming, most of them on the island of Kyushu in Japan’s south, far from the radiation contamination in the northern Fukushima area.
Tuna is laid out for inspection prior to the year’s first auction at Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. Japan’s exports of tuna and yellowtail climbed 16.9 percent and 18.1 percent in 2011, respectively, to 7.36 billion yen and 7.76 billion yen from a year earlier, according to data compiled by the agriculture ministry.
“Food is the one area that has a big investment potential,” said Mori, 44, president of Dogan Investments Inc. in Fukuoka City. “Locally farmed tuna, pork and beef on Kyushu island should get a stronger connection with the big market outside of Japan.”
Enthusiasm for Japanese food products has led at least 25 regional banks to increase lending to farmers who want to export abroad. Even Japan’s largest brokerage, Nomura Holdings Inc. (8604), is getting involved, assigning former stockbroker Shigekazu Wakabayashi to oversee the farming of sweet mini-tomatoes, the first of which ripened in January. Nomura wants to sell the tomato technology it has developed to China, Russia, India and Southeast Asian countries, company officials said.
Fish Farming
Mori, who ran Citigroup’s Fukuoka branch during his six-year tenure with the New York-based bank, has directed 48 million yen into Burimy Corp., which has set up confined areas where hundreds of thousands of bluefin tuna and yellowtail swim in pens about half a mile offshore. Japan has spent more than three decades pioneering a way to farm tuna, which is one of the most difficult fish to breed.
Burimy plans to sell 2,000 farmed tuna this year and to more than double sales next year, said Takahiro Hama, 42, a company director. While Burimy won’t disclose its returns, Ryohei Hayashi, a senior Dogan manager, said the latest of its funds, which are closed to individual investors, is targeting 7 percent this year.
The tuna farm exports about 40 percent of its fish, mostly to stores and restaurants in California and New York, including the 10th Avenue fusion establishment owned by Masaharu Morimoto, star of the television cooking show “Iron Chef.”