´´ 'Gama- Gaeru': The Most Celebrated Ceramic Toad in Stockmarket History

Friday, July 24, 2020

'Gama- Gaeru': The Most Celebrated Ceramic Toad in Stockmarket History

This little post will neatly encapsulate the popular delusions and sheer madness of crowds brought forth by the Japanese stock market bubble of the late 1980’s.

The genesis of this story lies on the fourth floor of an awfully exclusive Ryotei restaurant owned by Nui Onoue in Osaka, a grandmotherly lady in her 60’s. She was a fervent disciple of several bizarre and mystic religions and rituals who, during the go- go years of Japan’s stock market bubble, would amass a fortune and at the pivot point of her divine undertakings would become the wealthiest woman in Japan. 

Within Osaka, the toad is known as “Gama-Gaeru” or "toad-frog". Especially among Osaka's entrepreneurial business elite it is regarded as a minor deity, which possesses a good luck charm that attracts good fortunes to its owner. 

But Ms. Onoue’s toad was one of a kind, an amphibian Warren Buffett. It was incredibly successful in its role as a money magnet and at the peak of this grotesque story the toad would control a 20bn US Dollar stock portfolio.

In the process of the miraculous wealth accumulation Ms. Onoue, who later would be known within Japan as the “dark lady from Osaka”, would become the largest individual shareholder in three of the world’s biggest companies.


Mrs. Onoue: The Dark Lady of Osaka

Mrs. Onoue started her "professional" career working as a hostess in and around Osaka. There, it is said, she befriended a wealthy and highly influential owner of a large Japanese construction company. She channeled funds derived from this relationship into a restaurant called “Egawa”, which was rather a private club where Osaka’s political and business elite, as well as more shady characters, were entertained on a members-only basis.


Over time Mrs. Onoue had developed a reputation of an astute stock market operator amongst her guests. Whether her prescient stock picks were sheer luck or rather a result of acting on insider information gleaned from her powerful sugar daddy remains a mystery. But one thing should have been clear to everyone. It did not take a stock market genius to make money on the long side of the Japanese stock market during the go-go years of the bubble. Nonetheless, her admiring customers were keen to know the secret sauce of her apparent Midas touch.


The Toad has spoken

Willingly, Mrs. Onoue ushered them to the 4th floor and showed them a one-meter high ceramic toad. She instructed the audience to lay their hands on the toad, chanted some mantras, and dispelled the toad's wisdom in the form of stock market tips. In normal times, even in highly superstitious Japan, spirits and giant toads insufflating buy and sell recommendations would raise the specter of market participants. But heady bubble years are not normal years and evoke a fear of missing out. And apparently Mrs. Onoue’s ghostly advisers were too adroit to being ignored. 


A rising stream of top brokers, business people, politicians and investors started to flock to Mrs. Onoue’s restaurant, not at all interested in eating tempura, but eager to join Mrs. Onoue’s seances in front of the leniently smiling “Gama- Gaeru” on the fourth floor. 


Being invested in Japanese stocks during those go-go years was certainly an enriching experience overall. But, as we all know, not all stocks are created equal in a bull market. Some issues experienced inexplicably meteoric rises of epic proportions, which were undoubtedly related to the revelations of the toad, baffling fundamental analysts and annihilating short sellers on their path to exponential growth.


Mrs. Onoue kept on striking one home run after the other on her stock market bets and would finally appear on the national broadcasting system, now performing her surreal rituals to the general public. 


She was more and more becoming a minor celebrity that was even given a special award by the Osaka local government as one of the city's most honest taxpayers. That despite of the fact not having paid a single Sen in tax for four years.


The Toad has gone quite


If the toad's ascendancy had ended here it would have been little more than a story of unusual reptilian resource. But unfortunately, not all the money that “Gama-Gaeru” attracted was inmaculate. 


As word about Mrs. Onoue’s Midas touch spread, she was finally visited by senior executives from the most prominent Japanese investment banks in the late 1980’s. According to the author Alex Kerr, by 1991 IBJ alone had passed Y240bn over to her and 29 other banks and financial institutions had advanced her the staggering sum of Y2,800bn for her spiritual endeavor.


Unfortunately, the toad lost its divine touch shortly after. At the beginning of 1990, the Japanese stocks started to retreat, and finally the biggest share boom in modern history had come to a grinding halt and was slowly morphing into a giant crash. As Mrs. Onoue’s portfolio collapsed in synchrony with the Nikkei 225, she was forced to borrow massively to cover losses and to back loans. It was then when she left the spiritual path to riches and started her criminal career forging deposit documents. Helped by a branch manager of a small Osaka credit association she faked CDs worth a Y460 billion, almost as much as the entire deposit base held by the tiny bank, in order to obtain loans from other banks and non-bank financiers worth a 172 billion yen. 


Slowly, the public started to question how on earth a restaurant proprietress was able to amass such an amazing fortune, and leading banks handing over to her an ungodly amount of money. Doubts were also raised about whose voice she was really listening to before she made her investment decisions. Although in the past “Gama- Gaeru” got all the credit, more and more it dawned on the public that maybe her sugar daddy, and later a senior executive from Yamaichi Securities, a broker house that was already up to their necks involved in scandals surrounding stock loss compensation and Yakuza connections, had also been whispering into Mrs. Onoue’s ear.


Mrs. Onoue was arrested in 1991 and eventually sentenced to 12 years in jail in 1998 for involvement in Japan's largest loan fraud.


And there was further collateral damage. The most infamous being the chairman of the International Bank of Japan, during that time the most powerful man of the Japanese business elite. He was forced to resign in shame because of his strong ties with Mrs. Onoue. 


And, last but not least, the toad. In the early 2000’s, a reporter of the Financial Times with a penchant for the unearthly, went trophy-hunting in Osaka, in search of the legendary toad. Unfortunately, the outcome was less than successful and the whereabouts of the “Gama-Gaeru” remain a mystery up until now.



Source:

HOW A LUCKY TOAD SPAWNED A BANK SCAM by Steve Burrell (Financial Review)

The Celebrated Ceramic Toad of Osaka

She Bilked Japan’s Banks in the Run-Up to the Lost Decade by Nithin Coca (ozy.com)

Infany by Cassandra (nihoncassandra.blogspot.com)

5 comments:

  1. Is Portnoy our toad lady? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Portnoy

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    Replies
    1. I don't get the comment!?

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    2. Portnoy doesn't use a ceramic toad but swear words instead and might be seen in retrospect as an example of current market nonsense as toad lady now is.

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  2. I read about this story in the book Japan and the Shakes of the Past. Great post, thank you!

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    Replies
    1. Gosh. You guys are as mystical as Mrs. Onoue.

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