Nikkei rises for ninth straight week, longest run since 1988
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Nikkei average rose 1.4 percent on Friday to log gains for ninth straight week, its longest winning run since 1988, buoyed by comments by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to kick-start the ailing economy.
The benchmark Nikkei ended up 148.93 points at 10,801.57, its highest closing level since February 2011, with exporters gaining on a softer yen after Abe told the Nikkei newspaper that the central bank should consider pursuing maximum employment as part of its mandate.
The index was up 1.1 percent this week. Japan's markets are closed on Monday for a national holiday.
A 4.8-percent gain in index heavyweight Fast Retailing Co (9983.T), after the operator of casual clothing chain Uniqlo reported strong quarterly results and lifted its full-year forecast, also helped drive the Nikkei higher on Friday.
"Investors' concerns about global growth prospects eased while market expectations for Prime Minister Abe's policies remain high. Also, a weak yen is expected to bolster exporters' earnings," said Hiroichi Nishi, assistant general manager of equity research at SMBC Nikko Securities.
Abe made his biggest push yet to make jobs growth part of the Bank of Japan's mandate as his government approved $117 billion of spending to revive the economy in the biggest stimulus since the financial crisis.
His comments to the newspaper helped further weaken the yen, which was quoted at 88.93 to the dollar on Friday after hitting a 2-1/2-year low of 89.35 yen earlier.
Exporters that benefited from the yen weakness included Canon Inc, Mazda Motor (7261.T), Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd (7270.T), which owns the Subaru brand, and Nikon Corp (7731.T), which were all up between 2.3 and 4.6 percent.
Sharp Corp (6753.T) surged 12.6 percent to a three-week high after the Asahi newspaper said Mizuho Corporate Bank and Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ are considering providing additional loans to the struggling TV maker.
Separately, the Mainichi daily said Sharp was likely to post an operating profit of about 20 billion yen for the October-December quarter on solid sales of its IGZO displays and a weaker yen.
The broader Topix index gained 1.1 percent to 898.69, with 3.5 billion shares changing hands, down from a 22-month high of 4.17 billion hit on Thursday.
The Nikkei has surged nearly 25 percent over the past two months, driven by weakness of the yen after Abe called on the BOJ to adopt a more aggressive strategy for easing monetary conditions, including setting an inflation target of 2 percent.
However, some analysts said that Abe had gone too far suggesting a restriction of the central bank's independence. But others said Abe's comments reminded the market that his government can override rejections of bills by the upper house after winning an overwhelming majority of seats in the lower house election in December.
"Abe is seen seriously committed to making the economy better as he is becoming more detailed, and investors are feeling it is possible under his government," said Kyoya Okazawa, head of global equities at BNP Paribas.
"While most macro funds have finished allocating Japan shares to their portfolios by the end of the year, we are getting inquiries from long-only funds which intend to pick up Japanese stocks on fundamentals."
(Ayai Tomisawa and Tomo Uetake; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
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