TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Nikkei average climbed to a 52-month high on Wednesday as exporters were buoyed by the yen's recent weakness, but analysts expect the upside could be limited in the short run as investors focus on who will become the next Bank of Japan governor.
The Nikkei rose 0.8 percent to 11,468.28, marking its highest closing level since late September 2008. The benchmark index is up 10 percent since the start of this year, spurred by the yen's weakness, after rallying 22.9 percent in 2012. Most of the gains last year came in the final six weeks after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe focused his election campaign on lobbying the BOJ to adopt bolder monetary policy.
Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) rose 1.7 percent after the Nikkei newspaper said the carmaker will ramp up production in Japan in April by about 10 percent on higher-than-expected domestic sales and increased profitability of exports due to a weaker yen. It was the most traded stock by turnover on the main board.
Other exporters were also in demand, with Toshiba Corp (6502.T) adding 1.9 percent and Canon Inc (7751.T) gaining 1.5 percent.
The dollar last still traded at 93.55 yen, but not far from a 33-month high of 94.465 yen set on February 11. The yen has declined some 15 percent against the dollar since November, driven by bold expansionary policies pursued by Abe to reignite the economy.
"Lawmakers in Japan have made it very clear that they are comfortable with the yen at 90 to 100 (to the dollar). They probably prefer closer to 100 than 90. They would like the equity market to go higher in the fiscal year end (in March)," a senior trader at a foreign bank said.
Analysts said the Nikkei is likely to trade in a range for the rest of the week while investors carefully await the outcome of Friday's Washington summit, where Abe meets U.S. President Barack Obama to discuss a range of issues including bilateral, regional and global issues, as well as economic and trade matters.
"The yen weakness has steadied and the stock market has hit the resistance level of 11,500. Investors will probably take a wait-and-see stance before those key events," said Hajime Nakajima, deputy general manager at Iwai Cosmo Securities. "Short-term investors may trade on individual news, but we need more promising cues to attract long-term investors to the Japanese market."
Most investors are also likely to be circumspect about pouring more money into stocks as they focus on whom the government will nominate as the next central bank governor next week, the analysts said.
The government has delayed nominating a governor by a week, fanning talk of friction between the prime minister and the finance minister over who should run the central bank and take aggressive action to revive the economy.
The broader Topix added 1.1 percent to 973.70 in thin trade, with 2.82 billion shares changing hands, compared with last week's average daily volume of 4.03 billion shares.
Wednesday's market gains were partly capped by Japan Tobacco Inc (2914.T) ending down 1.0 percent, after falling as much as 5.9 percent as sources told Reuters that the Japanese government's $10 billion stake in the world's third-largest tobacco company was expected to kick off within days after bankers met on Tuesday over deal details.
Ebara Corp (6361.T) dived 7.6 percent after the manufacturer of pumps and air blowers said it would raise up to 35.1 billion yen through a public offering of common shares and convertible bond (CB) issuance, stoking fears of dilution.
Hiroichi Nishi, an assistant general manager at SMBC Nikko Securities, said that there were more than 40,000 call option orders at the 11,500 mark as of Tuesday, suggesting that the index faces some resistance from the seller side close to that level.
Japanese equities carry a 12-month forward price-to-earnings ratio of 13.8, a level not seen since March 2011, according to Thomson Reuters Datastream. That compared with a 10-year average of 16.4.
The senior trader at the foreign bank said long-only investors, such as pension funds, remained slow to enter the Japanese market.
"I don't think U.S. long-only funds have really got into this market. They are still underweight. I think it's hedge funds and regional accounts that have a little bit more flexibility around their asset allocations, so we are seeing those guys in the market," the trader said.
(Additional reporting by Dominic Lau and Tomo Uetake; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)
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