• Kyodo


The Nikkei 225 stock average came close to a 15-year high Thursday, bolstered by optimism about the economy.

The Tokyo Stock Exchange’s key index ended up 65.62 points, or 0.36 percent, from Wednesday at 18,264.79, its highest close since May 2000. It briefly rose to as high as 18,322.50, the highest intraday level since mid-2000.

The Topix index, which covers all first-section issues, finished 12.26 points, or 0.83 percent, higher at 1,494.93.

“Many companies are increasing shareholder returns, proof that they are less worried about Japan slipping back into deflation,” said Toshikazu Horiuchi, an equity strategist at IwaiCosmo Securities Co. “That’s good news, especially to overseas investors.”

Government data released before the market opening showed exports surged 17.0 percent for a fifth straight gain in January, underscoring the robust performance of car and electronics makers benefiting from a weaker yen.

Export-led firms including Toyota began yearly wage negotiations on Wednesday, with the market focusing on whether their robust earnings will be reflected in salaries.

“Wage gains will raise consumption and therefore boost domestic demand,” said Masashi Akutsu, an equity strategist at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc. “With overseas risks winding down, more attention is being focused on earnings per share and wage increases.”

Market hopes remained intact for an agreement on Greece’s bailout between the country’s new government and eurozone peers, after Athens said it will request an extension Thursday to lending set to expire Feb. 28.

On the first section, advancing issues outnumbered declining ones 1,351 to 420, while 91 ended unchanged.

Banks led gaining industry groups, with Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group rising ¥26.90, or 3.6 percent, to ¥770.20 and Mizuho Financial Group adding ¥7.60, or 3.6 percent, at ¥218.20. Other major gainers included brokerage and shipping.

Sony gained ¥52.50, or 1.7 percent, to ¥3,227.00 after saying the previous day it will spin off its audiovisual product business in October as part of its focus on profitability.

Antivirus software developer Trend Micro rose ¥225, or 6.6 percent, to ¥3,625 after it reported solid earnings in the business year through December.

Inbound tourism-linked shares rose after data showed foreign passenger arrivals in Japan jumped 29.1 percent in January. Central Japan Railway rose ¥575, or 2.6 percent, to ¥22,385 and discount retailer Don Quixote Holdings gained ¥260, or 3.1 percent, to ¥8,730.

Trading volume on the main section fell to 2,653.54 million shares compared with Wednesday’s 2,723.87 million shares.

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