TOKYO Japan's Nikkei share average lost ground on Wednesday as the yen jerked higher, triggering profit-taking on exporters, while social gaming company Gree Inc (3632.T) suffered a steep fall after cutting its annual profit forecast.
The Nikkei dropped 1 percent to 11,251.41. Its decline widened in the afternoon as investors sold exporters on a firmer yen after a Group of Seven official voiced concern about excessive moves in the Japanese currency.
"The market will likely stay sensitive to officials' comments until the G20 meeting this weekend. Any comments on foreign exchange could move the market," said Takuya Takahashi, an analyst at Daiwa Securities.
Major exporter Mazda Motor Corp (7261.T), whose share price nearly tripled between mid-November and early February as the yen weakened, dropped 2.8 percent in heavy trade. Fellow exporters Sony Corp (6758.T) and Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) shed 5.6 and 1.8 percent respectively.
Securities firms, which had sharp gains on Tuesday, were also sold off, although some analysts expect investors to buy the sector again soon.
Nomura Holdings (8604.T) fell 3.2 percent after advancing 5.5 percent on Tuesday, when the Nikkei rose 1.9 percent to end near a 33-month high of 11,498.42 hit on February 6.
"This last week and a half has definitely been more choppy, but the market has been reaching higher," said a senior trader at a foreign bank.
"The air is getting a little thinner the higher we go up and people are just a bit more nervous, but we haven't had a pullback that's lasted more than a day or two," he added.
The broader Topix dropped 1.2 percent to 966.52 as volume dropped to its lowest in seven days, with 3.81 billion shares changing hands.
Market watchers said the market may be prone to volatility until the weekend, when Group of 20 finance chiefs meet in Moscow.
Investors may also be cautious ahead of a Bank of Japan meeting concluding on Thursday, although there are few expectations of any fresh policy easing until a new governor is appointed.
GREE SAGS, INSURERS SHINE
Earnings continued to be a market driver on Wednesday, with social gaming firm Gree suffering a 15.3 percent tumble after slashing its profit outlook, citing a delay in the release of some game titles and sluggish overseas earnings.
Gree came under additional pressure after Nomura Securities downgraded it to "neutral" from "buy".
Mitsubishi Materials Corp (5711.T) dropped 7.2 percent to its lowest level in nearly three months after the metal company cut its annual operating profit forecast by 13 percent due to sluggish demand for car and battery materials.
Life insurers bucked the market after Goldman Sachs said the recent stock market rally and risk asset reduction had improved their valuations. It said Japanese insurers, badly hurt by the euro crisis, now look inexpensive compared with their foreign counterparts.
Goldman Sachs selected Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co Ltd (8750.T) as its top pick, propelling the share up 3.5 percent to approach the 23-month high it struck on January 15. Goldman's downgrade of NKSJ Holdings Inc (8630.T), its least favoured company in the sector, left the stock down 1.8 percent.
Many market players believe there is still upside for Japanese equities, particularly if the yen resumes its slide.
The dollar last traded at 93.02 yen, down from a near 33-month high of 94.41 yen on Tuesday, while the euro shed more than one yen to as far as 125.03.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a note dated Tuesday that the consensus among fund managers was for the next big macro event to be the yen reaching 100 against the dollar. It also said "contrarians" would likely be adding Japanese equities to their portfolios when the market dips.
In a separate note, Merrill said that a net 7 percent of surveyed global investors are now overweight on Japanese equities, with autos, technology and banks the most favoured sectors. The report also said all of the investors now expect double-digit increases in Japanese corporate earnings, compared with 70 percent in January.
(Additional reporting by Ayai Tomisawa and Tomo Uetake; Editing by Richard Borsuk)