Nikkei rises to fresh 15-year high on ECB; FamilyMart falls on merger talks

* FamilyMart falls, UNY rises on merger talk news * Nikkei may reach 19,400 at the end of the month – analyst * Nikkei heads for 4 straight week of gains By Ayai Tomisawa TOKYO, March 6 (Reuters) – Japan’s Nikkei share average rose to a fresh 15-year high on Friday as encouraging comments from the European Central Bank lifted sentiment, but FamilyMart Co tumbled on news that it was in merger talks with UNY Group Holdings Co.

The Nikkei gained 1.1 percent to 18,965.86 points by midmorning, its highest since April 2000. For the week, it has gained 0.8 percent, heading for a fourth consecutive week of gains.

The ECB raised growth and inflation targets and announced it would start its government bond-buying program of 60 billion euros a month on March 9.

Investors were awaiting U.S. job data later in the day. Analysts polled by Reuters expect U.S. payrolls to have increased 240,000 last month and the jobless rate to have ticked down to 5.6 percent from 5.7 percent.

“Today’s gains are mainly from good news from Europe, but the rising trend in the Nikkei will likely continue into next week on domestic catalysts, too,” said Shigemitsu Tsuruta, a senior strategist at SMBC Friend Securities, adding that investors are hopeful that Japan’s consumption and capital spending are recovering.

He also said that investors are focused on domestic economic indicators’ releases next week such as machinery data.

Tsuruta expects the Nikkei to rise as high as 19,400 by the end of March.

A weaker yen also bolstered overall market sentiment, and lifted such index-heavy stocks as Fast Retailing Co and exporters including Honda Motor Co, rising 1.65 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively.

FamilyMart dropped 3.5 percent, while UNY soared as much as 11 percent to a 2-1/2-week high in heavy trade on news that they are in discussions as both companies consider various tie-up options, including mergers, with other firms.

Concerns about UNY’s struggling general merchandise store business were weighing on FamilyMart shares, traders said.

The broader Topix rose 0.6 percent to 1,532.24 and the JPX-Nikkei Index 400 added 0.5 percent to 13,918.31.

(Editing by Kim Coghill)

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