TOKYO Japan's Nikkei fell on Tuesday as investors turned cautious over the index's recent rapid gains and sold shares in exporters as the yen's depreciation paused, while buying in defensive shares supported sentiment.
The Nikkei dropped 0.9 percent to 10,508.06 points, just above its 5-day moving average of 10,502.67.
Investors took profits on some exporters' recent gains now that the weakening trend of the yen appears to have paused for the time being. But with sentiment still positive amid expectations for further monetary easing, investors shifted to laggard domestic demand-sensitive shares such as food processors and drug makers.
Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) shed 2.0 percent, Nissan Motor Co (7201.T) dropped 1.1 percent and Fanuc Ltd (6954.T) weakened 1.3 percent.
On the other hand, Ajinomoto Co (2802.T) gained 2.2 percent and Chugai Pharmaceutical Co (4519.T) added 1.1 percent.
The dollar traded at 87.43 yen, retreating from a 2-1/2-year high of 88.48 yen marked on Friday as the dollar's robust appreciation over the past month had investors opting to book profits despite expectations of further Bank of Japan stimulus later in the month.
"If the yen drops to 88 to the dollar, the Nikkei will likely recover the 10,600-line and even rise further," said Kenichi Hirano, a strategist at Tachibana Securities, adding that the market has stayed sensitive to daytime currency moves.
While the main board succumbed to profit-taking mainly by foreign investors, small-to-mid size companies attracted buying as domestic retail investors have returned to the market, said Hiroichi Nishi, general manager at SMBC Nikko Securities.
The Mothers Exchange, which lists small-to-mid size companies, was up 1.1 percent, hitting its highest level since September 2011.
CyberAgent Inc (4751.T) added 1.6 percent and Mixi Inc (2121.T) advanced 0.7 percent.
CAUTIOUS MOOD BEFORE 3Q EARNINGS
As the majority of companies start releasing their earnings for the Oct-Dec period mid to late this month, investors are growing cautious amid anticipation of sluggish growth in corporate profits, traders said.
"Some stocks that have been rising won't see justifications to rise further such as industrial machinery makers and some autos as their third-quarter earnings are seen weak," said a trader at a foreign brokerage. "Broadly, people remain bullish but the market probably won't rise in a straight line."
But he added that with expectations the central bank will come up with further stimulus measures, falls may be limited despite possible further corrections in the market.
New Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) surged to power in December's lower house election, has called on the central bank to take bolder monetary stimulus measures to beat deflation, and possibly hold it accountable not just for pushing up prices but also boosting job growth.
A final decision will be made at the Bank Of Japan's next rate review on January 21-22, when it will debate setting a higher inflation target than the current 1 percent goal.
The Nikkei has risen about 21 percent since mid-November when Abe started calling for aggressive easing, taking the index deeper into overbought territory.
Its 14-day relative strength index is at 73.07, above the 70 level which is considered overbought and often indicates an imminent adjustment.
Sharp Corp (6753.T) bucked the overall market weakness and climbed 3.9 percent after the struggling TV maker said it had a better-than-expected operating profit for October-December, as it scrambles to generate profits in hopes of securing fresh financing.
The broader Topix shed 1 percent to 871.88 in active trade, with 3.52 billion shares changing hands.
(Additional reporting by Tomo Uetake; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Eric Meijer)