Nikkei retakes 19,500 line on growing recovery prospects

Stocks extended gains Wednesday amid spreading hope for an economic recovery, allowing the benchmark Nikkei 225 average to close above 19,500 for the first time in 14 years and 11 months.

The Nikkei climbed 107.48 points, or 0.55 percent, to end at 19,544.48, its highest finish since April 14, 2000, the last day the index closed above 20,000. On Tuesday, the key market gauge advanced 190.94 points.

The Topix rose 11.96 points, or 0.76 percent, to finish at 1,582.46 after gaining 12.29 points Tuesday.

The Nikkei was pressured by selling to lock in profits almost throughout the morning session, while the broader Topix managed to stay in positive territory. But stocks began to rise in the late morning amid growing expectations for an economic recovery through wage increases, and they spurted from midafternoon as investors cheered the news that many companies vowed substantial pay hikes in their official responses to wage increase requests by their labor unions.

Big pay-scale hikes by major automakers and electronics makers, including Toyota, Honda, Hitachi and Panasonic, “made investors confident that a virtuous economic cycle will be created (in Japan),” said Masashi Oguchi of Mito Securities Co.

On the back of the weak yen and falling oil prices, factors that can push up earnings at domestic firms, foreign investors’ appetite for Japanese stocks remain strong, an official at a bank-affiliated brokerage house said.

Still, investors kept some cautiousness ahead of the release of the outcome of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s two-day Federal Open Market Committee meeting ending in Washington later in the day. Players were particularly watching whether the Fed would remove the word “patient” from its statement to be issued after the meeting.

“If the view that the Fed will go ahead with an interest rate hike in June spreads after the meeting, the Dow will plunge and, as a result, the Nikkei will go under,” Oguchi said.

Rising issues outnumbered falling ones 1,030 to 683 in the first section, while 155 issues were unchanged. Volume increased to 2.044 billion shares from Tuesday’s 1.942 billion.

Department store operators Takashimaya and Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings rose sharply along with travel agency H.I.S., after the Japan National Tourism Organization said Wednesday the number of visitors to the nation in February jumped 57.6 percent from a year earlier to 1,387,000, a record high for the month.

Mainstay export-oriented names were buoyant as well. Among them were automakers Toyota and Honda, as well as electronics maker Sony and camera maker Canon.

On the other hand, mobile communications carriers SoftBank and KDDI, daily goods manufacturer Kao and trading house Mitsui were downbeat. Also on the minus side were oil developer Inpex, Asahi Glass and clothing retailer Fast Retailing.

Nikkei Futures

nikkeifutures.org@imediaone.com

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