Japan stocks hit 2-week closing high in thin trade

Japan stocks hit 2-week closing high in thin trade

Tokyo: Japanese stocks finished at their highest in two weeks on Wednesday, led higher by technology shares and automakers such as Toyota Motor Corp as the yen weakened and US holiday spending data eased concerns that the major export market was tipping into recession.

Trade was thin with many investors away for Christmas holidays. Other Asian markets including Australia and Hong Kong were shut, and many markets in Europe will also stay closed.

One notable stock was Sanyo Electric Co Ltd, which tumbled more than 10 percent after the struggling electronics maker said it had made illegal dividend payments worth 28 billion yen ($245 million) between 2002 and 2004.

Masaru Hamasaki, a senior strategist at Toyota Asset Management, said U.S. Christmas sales data supported exporters as it helped relieve investor concerns about the health of the US economy.

“No one had high expectations about the shopping sales this year, but the data didn’t turn out to be ridiculously horrible and investors perceived it as good news," he said.

US retailers’ holiday shopping season sales up to 24 December rose 3.6% from a year earlier, at the lower end of expectations, helped by a late-season spending surge on some items, according to data released on Tuesday.

“Still, the upside looks heavy for the Nikkei from now on as it lacks domestic trading factors and the outlook for the subprime problems is still unclear, though they have largely calmed down," Hamasaki said.

The benchmark Nikkei average ended the day up 0.7% or 100.95 points at 15,653.54, its highest close since 12 December.

The broader TOPIX index climbed 0.8% or 12.44 points to 1,508.47, the highest finish since 13 December.

The US stock market rallied on Monday, led by financial companies. It was closed on Tuesday for Christmas.

The dollar stood at 114.20 yen in Asian trade, staying near Monday’s peak of 114.49 yen on electronic trading platform EBS, its highest since 7 November.

Trade was thin on the Tokyo exchange’s first section, with 1.4 billion shares changing hands, compared with last month’s daily average of 2.3 billion.

Turnover value hit this year’s lowest at 1.4 trillion yen.

Advancing stocks outnumbered decliners by a ratio of more than six to one.