May 19, 2020 / 6:41 AM / 13 days ago

Tokyo shares hit 2-1/2 month high on hopes for swift reopening of economy

SYDNEY, May 19 (Reuters) - Japanese stocks advanced in line with their Wall Street and Asian peers and hit a two-and-a-half-month high on Tuesday, as encouraging early-stage data for a potential coronavirus vaccine boosted hopes for a swift reopening of the global economy.

The benchmark Nikkei average gained 1.5% to 20,433.45, its highest closing since March 6.

Data from Moderna Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine, the first to be tested in the United States, showed it produced protective antibodies in a small group of healthy volunteers, the company said on Monday.

In a positive response to this, U.S. stocks jumped on Monday, with the S&P 500 ending at a 10-week high, while the Dow and the Nasdaq rose 3.9% and 2.4%, respectively.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan last traded up 1.6% in late Asian trade.

Traders said the news of Moderna’s success with a potential coronavirus vaccine trial lifted investors’ risk appetite globally.

Japan’s broader Topix climbed 1.8% to 1,486.05, also its highest finish since March 6, with all but one of the 33 sector sub-indexes on the Tokyo exchange trading higher.

Highly cyclical iron and steel, sea transport and insurance were the top three performing sectors on the main bourse.

Panasonic Corp soared 7.0% after the company said on Monday it was seeing strong demand for battery cells from U.S. partner Tesla Inc and they were in talks to expand their joint plant in Nevada, which is now profitable.

Financials were also in demand. Both Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG) and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group (SMBC) climbed 4.1% each, while Dai-ichi Life Holdings and Tokio Marine Holdings added 2.8% and 4.5%, respectively.

Japan’s top oil and gas exploration company Inpex Corp rose 3.3% as oil prices climbed to a two month-high on Monday following signs that producers were following through on planned output reductions.

Reflecting investor optimism for Japan’s economic reopening, the country’s top theme park operator Oriental Land Co Ltd gained 5.5%, which has temporarily closed Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Bucking the overall market, the Nikkei’s heavyweight SoftBank Group Corp shed 2.8% after it reported a stunning $18 billion loss at its Vision Fund, pushing the tech conglomerate to a record loss and highlighting the deepening crisis at its portfolio companies.

Separately, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday the conglomerate was in talks to sell “a significant portion” of its T-Mobile US stake to controlling shareholder Deutsche Telekom AG.

Elsewhere, Sony Corp and its financial arm Sony Financial Holdings surged 3.3% and 16.9%, respectively, after the Nikkei newspaper reported Sony will turn Sony Financial into a wholly-owned unit through a tender offer worth about 400 billion yen ($3.7 billion). ($1 = 107.4100 yen) (Reporting by Tomo Uetake; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Rashmi Aich)

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