In Tokyo ‘Abe-nomics’ is the buzzword, and business confidence is back. Aggressive monetary easing by the Bank of Japan and massive economic stimulus spending saw the yen weaken against the dollar by 20% in early 2013 to $1:¥100 in a matter of months. In addition, the Nikkei 225 stock index rose 43% between January 2013 and May 2013. Although the weakening of the yen will result in more expensive overseas acquisitions, major exporters are looking abroad for investment opportunities. Southeast Asia is an area of focus, but so too is the US and Latin America.
Project development and finance continues to excite the market. Firms have seen a greater focus on infrastructure projects in the Americas and Africa and the development of renewable energy projects in the United States and in the MENA region. The shale gas revolution in the US has also led to increased investment in upstream and downstream oil & gas transactions, in particular LNG regasification and liquefaction projects specifically for the export of LNG to Japan.
Other practice areas that are reacting positively to market trends include structured finance, driven amongst other things by an improving real estate market; antitrust and competition thanks to cartel prosecutions, merger filings from increased outbound M&A and greater international co-ordination of enforcement efforts; and an increase in the prevalence of arbitration as a means of dispute resolution.
The Big Four continue with their plans to dominate through expansion into Asia. In 2012 Mori Hamada & Matsumoto launched its office in Singapore. Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu followed suit early in 2013, with its own Singapore office, and Nishimura & Asahi opened offices in Bangkok and Yangon in 2013. Not to be left out, in the spring of 2013, Anderson Mori & Tomotsune announced its intention to open offices in Singapore, the opening of its Shanghai office and, closer to home, in Nagoya to meet its clients’ demands.
Splinter firms have emerged, namely in the form of Marunouchi Kokusai Law Office, a finance firm made up of lawyers from Nishimura & Asahi and TMI Associates.
The market has also seen some interesting lateral hires. Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP has added some serious firepower to its Tokyo presence with not only the relocation of young project finance partner Alexander Borisoff from the US, but also the recruitment of the mighty Aled Davies from Allen & Overy Gaikokuho Kyodo Jigyo Horitsu Jimusho.
Other big moves include Christopher Wells, Tomoko Fuminaga and his funds team leaving White & Case LLP – White & Case Law Offices (Registered Association) to join Bingham McCutchen Murase, Sakai Mimura Aizawa – Foreign Law Joint Enterprise, and IP and commercial litigation expert David Case’s move, again from White & Case LLP – White & Case Law Offices (Registered Association), to join Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. White & Case LLP – White & Case Law Offices (Registered Association) has invested in the lateral hire of M&A partner Mangyo Kinoshita from O'Melveny & Myers Gaikokuho Kyodojigyo Horitsujimusho.