Tokyo shares rebound as trade war fears ease

Tokyo stocks ended higher on Thursday, boosted by easing fears of a trade war as the White House signalled it would water down plans for contentious metal tariffs.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 index rose 0.54 percent, or 115.35 points, to end at 21,368.07 while the broader Topix index climbed 0.35 percent, or 5.99 points, to 1,709.95.

“There is a feeling that President Trump may be toning down his protectionism push,” said Makoto Sengoku, market analyst at Tokai Tokyo Research Centre.

“Things may not turn out as bad as we feared before,” he told AFP.

The US administration said the president still plans to sign off on global steel and aluminium tariffs as early as Thursday, but indicated there could yet be exemptions for allies.

“There are potential carve-outs for Mexico and Canada, based on national security. And possibly other countries as well,” press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters at the White House.

Investors in Tokyo also cheered data released early Thursday showing Japan’s economic growth in the final three months of 2017 was much stronger than initially thought, hitting 0.4 percent quarter-on-quarter instead of 0.1 percent estimated earlier.

“The figures are strong, upheld by robust corporate capital. This is a good thing,” Sengoku said.

“But it could also fuel speculation that Japan will move towards exiting (its current massive) monetary easing,” he said.

If the Bank of Japan tapered its easing measures, this would squeeze money out of markets and push the yen up, a negative for exporters.

But many investors refrained from making major trading moves ahead of the Friday release of US jobs data, said Okasan Online Securities.

“Many investors wanted to see the direction of the US trade policy and the February jobs data,” it said in a commentary.

In trade in individual stocks, copier maker Ricoh ended up 0.99 percent at 1,118 yen after the Nikkei business daily reported that it would cut some 4,000 jobs, or four percent of its group workforce, mostly in Japan and Europe.

Ricoh did not confirm the report but added in a statement it has been pushing ahead with structural reforms.

Nissan rose 0.77 percent to 1,113.5 yen after the alliance of Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi Motors denied speculation that they are considering a purchase of the bulk of France’s 15-percent equity stake in the French carmaker.

The dollar was trading at 105.99 yen, little changed from the level in New York on Wednesday.