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Japan's Falling Birth Rate Prompts Big Toymaker Merger


Pac-man is about to be vanquished by the Power Rangers. The maker of the popular Pac-man arcade game, Namco, is being acquired by Japan's largest toymaker, Bandai, in an effort to survive in a domestic market that is losing young customers as the country's birth rate falls.

Bandai President Takeo Takasu says the merged entity hopes to achieve annual sales of about $5.5 billion, compared with the two companies' estimated combined sales of nearly $4.5 billion before the merger.

Mr. Takasu says the merged entities will create an unparalleled entertainment company handling a wide range of business fields covering toys, movies and videos, amusement facilities and the Internet.

Bandai failed in an attempt to merge with competitor Sega eight years earlier.

Namco Chairman Masaya Nakamura, who founded his company a half century ago, expresses no regrets about the deal. Mr. Nakamura says by combining the intellectual talents of Bandai and Namco, the legacy both gamemakers established will be able to survive.

America's big three automakers are urging Japan to stop what they term "jawboning and intervening" in currency exchange markets to keep the value of the yen artificially low.

General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler say U.S. government officials and lawmakers need to act against Japan's currency market interventions, because they amount to unfair "export subsidies" for Japanese automakers. The lower the value of the yen against the dollar, the lower the cost of importing Japanese cars into the United States and the more attractive the cars become.

The U.S. Automotive Trade Policy Council says Japan has been using currency manipulation to avoid making what it calls much-needed domestic economic reforms.

Individual investors in Japan will soon find it easier to try their hand at foreign exchange margin trading.

Seven commodity futures brokerages and securities companies in July will launch the Tokyo International Financial Futures Exchange, known as the TFX. The exchange will allow individuals to engage in round-the-clock margin trading in foreign currencies up to 20 times the amount of their deposits.

The TFX says it will manage all deposits, protecting investors' funds even if one of the participating firms goes bust. The exchange says it hopes the new market will attract about 100,000 customers.

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