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Tokyo market: Banks to suffer as results pour in

JAPAN'S benchmark stock average will probably hover near 16,000 this week as investors sift through results from more than 800 companies, in addition to the 550 companies that have already reported. Government bonds are likely to be little changed ahead of an auction on Tuesday which may provide the lowest coupon this year at 1.3 per cent.

Among the companies releasing results and forecasts are NEC, Toshiba, Fujitsu, Hitachi and Mitsubishi Electric - Japan's big five chipmakers. Others include Toyota, Nippon and Nintendo.

"The report season gives investors an excuse to do nothing while they digest results," said Scott McGlashan, director of Far-Eastern investments at Perpetual. "The natural direction for this market, barring good news, is down."

The Nikkei 225 stock index ended lower for a second week, slipping briefly below 16,000 for the first time since 31 March. The benchmark ended the week 3.1 per cent lower at 16,292.98.

Banks may continue their decline. They have fallen for eight of the past nine days as new disclosure standards expand the value of their problem loans by more than 40 per cent, and on expectation that non-performing loans will balloon amid Japan's prolonged recession. Sumitomo Trust and Sanwa were among the worst performers in the Topix banking index last week, with Sumitomo shedding 13 per cent and Sanwa dropping 11 per cent.

Japan's city banks - including Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, Tokai, Sakura and Fuji - said on Friday that they would be back in the black in the year to March 2000. Trust and regional banks report this week.

Investors may be sceptical. "The consensus is that all these banks are still on the sick list, although they're no longer critical," said Mr McGlashan. "The bad debt situation is going to be worse than they've been letting on. Their shares are incredibly overpriced - you're paying some multiple of book value - and maybe there's no book value there in the real world."

Nissan may fall after posting its sixth loss in seven years and predicting the worst is yet to come. Nissan said it expected Honda to outpace it.

Still, some exporters may gain if the dollar continues to strengthen against the yen. The dollar touched a seven-month high against the yen on Thursday, and further strength could bring investors back to blue-chip exporters, particularly those which look to the US for a large part of their sales.