Tokyo stocks ended lower Thursday, with the benchmark Nikkei index retreating from a three-week closing high to lose 0.83 percent on renewed concerns about the eurozone debt crisis and the affect of the yen's rise on Japan's key export sector.
Local brokers here said that despite encouraging news from an industry body in the United States suggesting retail sales in the world's largest economy may support other recent data indicating a positive economic recovery track, debt woes in the eurozone continued to weigh on investor sentiment.
Strategists in Tokyo noted that Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos asking the nation to accept further pay cuts as a last- ditch attempt for the debt-plagued country to remain a part of the 17-nation, single currency bloc and thus be eligible for further emergency funding, spooked investors.
"We have to give up a little so we don't lose a lot," Papademos said to European Union and business leaders on Wednesday. The Greek leader added that the nation could be facing a complete economic meltdown as early as March and upcoming troika talks were essential, strategists here said.
"Without this agreement with the troika and subsequent financing, Greece in March faces the immediate risk of a disorderly default," said Papademos.
Brokers said fears about Europe's increasing debt crisis sent Japan's currency higher versus the euro and dented profit outlooks for Japan's euro-linked issues reliant on a weak yen to boost overseas revenues and competitiveness.
At the 3 p.m. close in Tokyo the euro was trading at 99.10-11 yen, dropping from 99.99-100.02 yen on Wednesday. In Europe on Monday the currency fell to an 11-year low of 98.71 yen. Meanwhile, the dollar traded at 76.71-74 yen, in line with Wednesday's quote at the end of trading hours in Tokyo.
"The strong yen against the euro is not seen as a temporary, short-term problem and it is pressuring the market," said Yutaka Miura, a senior technical analyst at Mizuho Securities.
"The focus this year is whether Europe's debt problems will settle and when those problems will begin to impact the United States. There are no other themes this year except Europe. Market participants are watching how much longer the yen will continue to rise against the euro and the dollar."
The 225-issue Nikkei Stock Average fell 71.40 points from Wednesday to close the day at 8,488.71, while the broader Topix index of all First Section issues on the Tokyo Stock Exchange lost 6.71 points, or 0.90 percent, to finish the day at 736.28.
Euro-linked issues lost ground, pressured by the strength of the yen and consumer electronics giant Sony Corp. dropped 2.2 percent to 1,373 yen, while Kyocera Corp. lost 1.3 percent to 6, 200 yen.
Canon retreated 1.2 percent to 3,390 yen and embattled chipmaker Elpida Memory Inc. plummeted 7.4 percent to 350 yen, following news the firm has sought funding from a multinational consortium of companies and is in talks with Toshiba Corp. about a potential quid-pro-quo business arrangement.
Also among the day's notable decliners, semiconductor maker Sumco Corp. lost 2.9 percent to 564 yen, while Shin-Etsu Chemical Co. dropped 1.8 percent to 3,790 yen.
But Scandal-hit Olympus Corp. closed in positive territory on Thursday, climbing 4.4 percent to 1,031 yen, following news the firm's ousted CEO Michael Woodford is in talks with investors about the possibility of retaking the firm's top post as it struggles to improve its tainted image following a massive investment fraud saga.
Trading volume on Thursday dropped to 1.25 billion shares on the Tokyo Exchange's First Section, down from Wednesday's volume of 1.44 billion shares, with declining issues outnumbering declining ones by 1,144 to 414.