Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Do something good for Japan, and yourself. Buy Honda stock

I had this crazy dream a few nights ago. I was over in Japan, in the area that has been wrecked by the tsunami. I was riding some kind of trail bike, with a huge Acerbis fuel tank of the type used by Dakar racers. And the bike was fitted with an electrical generator and inverter, so people could plug household appliances into it. People were running to me, getting me to charge their cell phones.

The next day, I read that when Honda shut down motorcycle production, the company sent 1,000 employees home with generators. That's a sort of full circle. The first Honda company was a factory supplying piston rings to Toyota, before WWII. That factory was destroyed in the war, and so were all the Toyota factories. So, Soichiro Honda needed another idea. The very first 'Hondas' were a few dozen bicycles fitted with tiny motors that he scrounged up in the aftermath of the war. The motors were actually intended for use as generators. They were of a type used to power radios at remote observation posts. If memory serves, Honda found about fifty of them. Those were his first mopeds, and they sold like hotcakes.

Honda then went to a whole bunch of bicycle shops, and told the shop owners that if they invested enough money to allow him to start making his own motors, he'd provide them with a great new product. Those small bike shop owners (there were thousands of independent bicycle shops in Japan at the time) provided the capital that started the company we now all know.
A 1947 Honda 'D', scanned from my trusty copy of Tragatsch. I'm not sure if this is one of the surplus-generator bikes, or the second generation (no pun intended) motor that Honda built with the investment capital provided by the bicycle-shop owners.
Honda stock took a $#!+ kicking last week, dropping about $10 in the mid-30 range. It's already started to come back a bit, as investors realize that it's still a great company with great ideas and great products, that are made and purchased all over the world. Judging from the news on the nuclear reactor front, it's going to get worse in Japan before it gets better. But Japan, and companies like Honda, saw far worse in 1945.


The market wrote billions off Honda's value last week. People have written Honda off before; as recently as last season in MotoGP, there were plenty of people who thought Honda would never regain its form. Then came testing for the 2011 season, and Casey Stoner begged to differ. Even Rossi recently admitted, "The Hondas are on another planet." That was a metaphor. In reality, we're all on this one together.

Japan's not Haiti. What will save it? Not blankets, bottled water, MREs, and airlifts of fuel. Although those would be mighty welcome if they could be delivered today, they won't arrive for a week or more. By then, survivors of the quake and tsunami will have made it to unscathed areas where their own friends and families, and countrymen, will ensure that basic needs are met.

Making their nuclear reactors safe is a separate problem. Come what may, Japan's going to enter a new and capital-intensive phase soon. What will save it is precisely the kind of innovation and can-do spirit that made Honda great the first time. The world needs to see that Japan's down but not out, and that the billions of dollars of investment that will be needed to rebuild are just that, an investment. Because the world's attention span is sadly short, and when sympathy stops driving charity, what will remain is a desire for profit.

You want to help? For once, it's easy and by helping, you'll actually make money: Buy Honda stock right now.

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