Tokyo Market: Internet shares hope for strong launch

JAPANESE stocks may rise as a robust US stock market and a weakening yen boost shares of computer shares and exporters. Oracle Japan, the Japanese subsidiary of the software company, may focus attention on internet stocks when it begins trading on 5 February. "There's no shortage of interest in internet stocks; the problem is finding plays on that in Japan," said Barry Dargan, at Massachusetts Investment Management.

The benchmark Nikkei average rounded off its third week of gains, closing up 2.4 per cent at 14,499.25. It may trade between 14,500 and 15,000 said Dhia Bitar, at Nomura Securities.

The dollar reached a one-month high against the yen at Y116, easing concern that exporter profits, which depend on overseas sales and are vulnerable to currency fluctuations, will continue to be pummeled .

The motor industry climbed 6.6 per cent as a group last week and may continue its rise as investors look for likely takeover targets. The decision by Ford to buy Volvo's car unit is spurring investors to look at the likely targets in Japan.

"Potentially, the whole Japanese motor industry is in play except Toyota and maybe Honda," said Scott McGlashan, director at Perpetual. "A foreign takeover in the motor industry would be hugely exciting for the market and underline the cheapness of Japanese assets."

However, bank stocks may suffer if allegations that they concealed losses on government bonds turn out to be true. The Japan Securities Dealers Association, the industry's self-regulatory body, said it has opened an investigation.

That could sour investors with shares in Japan's lenders even as the government pressurises banks to merge and to accept greater infusions of public money to shore up their capital as they write off non-performing loans.

"I'm appalled by the recent revelation that Japanese financial institutions appear to be returning to the bad old days of tobashi schemes," said Robert Reiner, at Bankers Trust in New York, referring to the practice of transferring losses to other companies that report earnings at different periods.

"Just at a time when Japanese regulators are trying to convince foreign investors that it's safe to invest in Japanese banks we learn that the books are being cooked yet again."