Japan's Nikkei stock index rose a moderate 0.37 percent Wednesday as investors sought to capitalize on last minute year-end dividends, with the market also gaining support from positive consumer data in the U.S.
Local traders here pointed to U.S. consumer confidence surging to a six-year high in March as brightening the market mood in early trade Wednesday, following the Conference Board saying its index of consumer attitudes rose to 82.3 from 78.3 in February, marking the highest level since January 2008 and beating median economists' expectations.
The news boded well for U.S. shares and the dollar, and the overall optimistic outlook for the health of the world's largest economy helped lift sentiment Wednesday following a slew of tepid macroeconimc data coming out of the U.S. in recent months, analysts said. "Knowing that the U.S. economic recovery is maintaining its momentum is helping investor sentiment,"said Hiroichi Nishi, an equities manager at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc."When we enter April, the U.S. data will be from after the cold spell so the expectations are that we'll see good numbers and the market impact of Japan's sales-tax increase next month will be'slight', " Nishi said.
But despite investors pumping money into the market Wednesday before ex-dividend day and giving some blue chips and other firm' s shares offering payouts and other incentives a lift, brokers said that trade was choppy and the market would remain range bound for a while as investors eye taking up fresh positions in the new fiscal year.
They added that the geopolitical situation between Russia and Ukraine continued to weigh on the market mood and was keeping some investors on the sidelines, in a wait-and-see mode, ahead of fresh incentives to go after riskier assets and chase the market higher.
Investor concern about external factors, such as the Russia- Ukraine situation, effects the market here more so than other international bourses, noted one Tokyo-based strategist.
The Nikkei Stock Average added 53.97 points from Tuesday to close at 14,477.16, while the broader Topix index gained 8.37 points, or 0.72 percent, to finish at 1,172.07.
Among stocks in focus Wednesday, drug firms offering high dividends found favor with Astellas Pharma jumping 3.3 percent and Ono Pharmaceutical surging 6.1 percent.
Kirin advanced 2.6 percent to 1,362 yen, on news of annual dividend yields to at least 40 yen a share next fiscal year and a possible huge buyback plan, the Nikkei newspaper said and Kawasaki Heavy Industries found traction, gaining 0.5 percent to 373 yen after deciding to raise its planned dividend payout for this fiscal year.
Kajima drew buying and increased 2.9 percent to 360 yen, following Deutsche Bank upping its rating of the company's stock from"sell"to"hold"and Taisei added 2 percent to 450 yen after the bank also increased its rating and additionally its target stock price to 440 yen from 410 yen.
But mobile phone service providers weighed on the market Wednesday, with heavyweight Softbank dropping 1.6 percent to 7,963 yen and KDDI retreating 0.9 percent to close at 5,768 yen.
Nippon Kayaku was also among the day's notable decliners, with the chemicals and pharmaceutical maker falling 4.5 percent to 1, 136 yen, following Nomura cutting its rating on the stock to" neutral"from"buy." The brokerage also lowered its target price to 1,300 yen from 1,740 yen.
Trading volume on Wednesday dropped to 2.44 billion shares on the Tokyo Exchange's First Section, down from Tuesday's volume of 2.66 billion shares, with advancing issues outnumbering declining ones by 1,080 to 606.