By Kevin Buckland
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Nikkei share average closed at the highest level in 34 years on Thursday, surging more than 2% after a high-ranking Bank of Japan (BOJ) official signaled that any policy tightening would be gradual.
Japanese stocks had already started the day on the front foot, following a tech-led rally on Wall Street overnight.
The Nikkei ended the day up 2.06% at 36,863.28, the highest close since February 1990, when the country’s so-called “bubble” economy was just starting to deflate.
BOJ Deputy Governor Shinichi Uchida said in a speech that came in the middle of the morning trading session that conditions were falling into place for an exit from massive stimulus, but “even if the BOJ were to end our negative interest rate policy, it’s hard to imagine a path in which it would then keep raising the interest rate rapidly.”
The yen slid against major peers, providing an additional tailwind for the exporter-heavy Nikkei. A weaker currency inflates the value of overseas revenue and makes products more competitive.
Japanese government bond yields flipped from an early rise to fall across maturities. [JP/]
While Uchida’s comments were in line with the thinking among domestic analysts, foreign fast-money investors like hedge funds had been too aggressive in bets for monetary tightening this year, forcing an unwinding of positions, Shoki Omori, chief Japan desk strategist at Mizuho Securities, said.
“Markets, particularly foreign fast-money investors, were way ahead of the BOJ,” Omori said.
“The BOJ did start to lay the ground for a removal of negative interest rates, but that’s it. They didn’t want to commit to anything too early.”
Foreign investors have been a major driver of the Nikkei’s more than 10% surge this year, which has easily outpaced major global rivals, including the U.S. S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite.
Gains for U.S. semiconductor shares overnight lifted Nikkei chip-sector heavyweights like Tokyo Electron and Advantest, which gained 3.35% and 7.56% respectively.
Artificial intelligence (AI)-focused startup investor SoftBank Group provided the biggest boost in terms of index points, vaulting 11.06% after key holding Arm forecast sales and profit exceeding the market’s expectations.
Financial results continued to produce outsized winners and losers, as the reporting season heads for a crescendo next Wednesday.
Pharmaceuticals firm Kyowa Kirin was the Nikkei’s biggest percentage gainer by far, surging 19.38% after announcing a share buyback.
At the other end, construction company Shimizu Corp plunged 16.15% following its financial results.
(Reporting by Kevin Buckland; Editing by Rashmi Aich and Mrigank Dhaniwala)
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