Nikkei wavers as investors eye upcoming gamechangers
Japan's Nikkei share average dipped on Thursday as investors continued to cut their exposure to risky assets, hedging against the potentially disruptive consequences of Greece's election at the weekend and Federal Reserve and G20 meetings next week.
Nomura Holdings bounded ahead on an upgrade and consumer electronics companies such as Sony outperformed the market for the first time in weeks, but caution reigned as poor U.S. retail figures chilled already weak risk appetite.
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"We are caught in a vacuum ahead of this weekend's events... there's no liquidity in this market, understandably, ahead of what people see as a totally game-changing event," said Stefan Worrall, director of equity cash sales at Credit Suisse.
Trading on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange ebbed to 860 billion yen after topping 1 trillion yen every day last week.
The Nikkei slipped 0.2% to 8,568.89 , remaining trapped in the same tight range seen this week after a Spanish bank bailout deal failed to dispel concern about an escalating euro zone debt crisis.
Major automakers sagged, though Renesas Electronics bucked the market trend with a jump of 14.9 percent, the latest volatile shift for the troubled chipmaker following reports that it would take out a 50 billion yen bank loan after its major shareholders refused to inject fresh capital.
Securities was the best-performing sector put on 3 percent, b uoyed by Nomura Holding's gain of 4.2 percent after Barclays Capital upped its rating to "outperform" from "equal weight", saying it would be advisable to judge the market bottom and take an aggressive stance on the stock.
Consumer electronics companies, which have taken a beating over in recent weeks on pessimism about their failing TV units, also bucked the market fall. Sharp Corp, Sony Corp and Panasonic Corp rose between 1.5 and 2.5%.Investors are hedging against the possibility of Greece's painful exit from the euro zone if an anti-bailout party win this weekend's election.
"The market is directionless at the moment," said Hiroyuki Fukunaga, chief executive of Investrust. "If the Nikkei fell beyond its June 4 low of 8,295 or rose beyond 8,700 that would set its direction either way, but it's unlikely to do that until after next week."
The broader Topix index dropped 0.1 percent to 725.66 after flirting with positive territory as trading volume hit a two-week low.
Traders said thin volume exacerbated flightiness in the market. Tsugami Corp dropped as much as 12.4% after rumors of cancelled orders at the industrial equipment maker, but later pared losses to close down 5.6% after the company denied the reports.
Disappointing U.S. retail figures showing sales fell to a two-year low in May, another indicator of a stuttering recovery in the world's largest economy, further chilled investor confidence.
"These are just the latest gloomy statistics out of the U.S. and it's exactly news like this that has forced so much attention on the FOMC meeting, to see if they will ease to boost the economy," said Makoto Kikuchi, CEO of Myojo Asset Management Japan.
Market players are pinning their hopes on further easing from the Fed next week after its Federal Open Market Committee, possibly in an expansion of its bond purchases after its "Operation Twist" stimulus programme expires at the end of this month.
A Bank of Japan policy meeting also ends on Friday, but market consensus is that it will hold fire on expanding its asset-purchasing programme until July, awaiting a move from the Fed and developments in Europe.
We can't do this alone
Bargain hunting and short-covering has lifted the Nikkei from a six-month low hit on June 4 after a 9-week losing streak, but analysts say a lack of positive incentives has left the market without the momentum for an authentic rebound.
The downwards tendency has been driven by foreign investors, who are responsible for about 60-70% of trading volume on the Japanese market. They were net sellers of Japanese stocks last week for the eighth straight week, according to data from the Ministry of Finance.
Naomi Fink, a Japan equity strategist at Jefferies, said in a report that domestic players attribute too much influence to foreign investors - as much as 91% - and that "Japanese investors are still telling us that we need the foreigners back in order to stage any type of convincing rally."
Amid uncertainty about the fate of the euro zone and concern about slowing growth in the U.S. and China, as well as emerging countries, foreign investors headed to the perceived safety of Japanese bonds, of which they were net buyers last week.