Japan shares stay near 15-year high, outlook remains positive

* Nikkei flat, broader Topix down slightly * Market in ‘correction phase’ after rally – strategist * Nintendo falls sharply after big gains in past 2 days By Hideyuki Sano TOKYO, March 20 (Reuters) – Japan’s Nikkei share average was little changed near a 15-year high early on Friday as investors took a breather after the market’s strong rally since February.

The index, which touched a 15-year high of 19,557.17 on Tuesday, rose 0.1 percent to 19,486.75. The broader Topix, however, fell 0.2 percent to 1,573.06.

“There are some signs the rally had got overheated. So the market is in a correction phase,” said Masahiro Ayukai, senior investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

Still, some market players say sentiment remains positive on hopes companies will report solid earning growth and Japanese public investors will keep buying stocks.

Nintendo, which had soared 35.7 percent in the last two sessions after announcing it will enter the smartphone game market, fell 5.9 percent.

The Nikkei has risen more than 11 percent this year, making Japan one of the best performing markets after some European countries.

“Although we have seen some profit-taking today, many people in the market are still bullish,” said a trader at a Japanese brokerage firm.

Underpinning the market are expectations that Japanese companies’ profits could grow more than 10 percent in the financial year that begins in April.

Investors also expect higher payouts to shareholders as the government is putting pressure on companies to boost returns-on-equity.

Yahoo Japan soared 5.8 percent and Mitsubishi Electric rose 2.0 percent after each company announced a dividend hike plan.

Japanese public investors, such as public pension funds, have steadily bought stocks for months as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has goaded them to be more aggressive in its investments after his radical stimulus to try boosting growth.

The JPX-Nikkei Index 400 shed 0.2 percent to 14,288.78.

(Editing by Richard Borsuk)

Nikkei Futures

nikkeifutures.org@imediaone.com

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