Nikkei likely to start 2013 higher after U.S. cliff averted

TOKYO Fri Jan 4, 2013 5:16am IST

Visitors cast their shadows on the logo of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, prior to a ceremony marking the end of trading in 2012 at the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo December 28, 2012. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Visitors cast their shadows on the logo of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, prior to a ceremony marking the end of trading in 2012 at the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo December 28, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Nikkei share average is expected to rise on its first trading day of 2013 and could test a nearly two-year high as a deal in Washington to avert the "fiscal cliff" buoys sentiment and a weaker yen is likely to lift exporters.

Market participants said the Nikkei was likely to trade between 10,600 and 10,800 on Friday. The Nikkei closed up 0.7 percent at 10,395.18 on December 28, the last trading day of 2012, after touching its highest level since March 10, 2011, in intraday trade.

If the index touches the 10,800-mark, it will be the first time since February 21, 2011.

Nikkei futures in Chicago closed at 10,765 on Thursday, up 335 points from the Osaka close of 10,430 on the final trading day of 2012.

"It's a relief that the U.S. fiscal cliff was averted," said Hiroichi Nishi, general manager at SMBC Nikko Securities, adding that the market would likely cheer positive developments that happened while Japanese markets were closed for the New Year holidays.

"Exporters should benefit from a weaker yen on expectations that they will have strong forecasts for the next fiscal year."

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama signed "fiscal cliff" legislation that raises tax rates for top earners and extends tax cuts for the middle class.

On Friday morning, the yen traded at 87.56 yen to the dollar, its weakest since July 2010. A weaker yen inflates exporters' overseas earnings when repatriated.

Japanese shares gained 23 percent last year, their best yearly gain since 2005, after rising expectations of aggressive monetary stimulus under new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe weakened the yen and bolstered exporters.

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(Reporting by Ayai Tomisawa; Editing by Chris Gallagher)

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