Tokyo Market: Mixed week ahead as year-end sales loom

JAPANESE stocks may have a mixed week as domestic institutions step up selling of large-cap stocks to realise gains for year-end accounting in March, offsetting buying by foreign investors. Nippon Telegraph and Telephone may fall after the phone company's parent cut current profit by 26 per cent. Bridgestone may drop after profits fell short of the company's forecast.

Small-cap issues such as toymaker Tomy and telemarketer Moshi Moshi Hotline, may climb as the over-the-counter index goes on rallying. The Jasdaq of OTC stocks has surged 50 per cent since October as investors have sought growth.

"Although gaijin (foreigners) are pretty aggressive buyers, unwinding of corporate cross-shareholdings should put a cap on the market around 14,500," said Scott McGlashan, director at Perpetual. "The real action is likely to remain in the small-caps until April, as these stocks don't have the push-me-pull-you influences keeping the large-caps in a fairly tight range."

The benchmark Nikkei 225 rounded off a second week of gains, climbing 2 per cent. There is pressure on Japanese banks and companies to dress up balance sheets by posting any gains they can on equities, and selling to raise cash for year-end debts.

"Generally corporations in Japan still want to reduce their equity," said Celia Farnon, an equity saleswoman at Nomura Securities. "It's easier to sell a share than to lay off a worker."

Yet, with the Nikkei on target to post its worst fiscal year-end close in 14 years, traders are anticipating an influx of government-linked pension funds in the next few weeks to avoid a worst-case scenario. "The only hope for the market is a healthy injection of public funds heading into March," said Dhia Bitar, at Nomura Securities.

Investors are turning to small-cap issues in new industries such as the internet, or service niches, and have bought telecoms and pharmaceuticals. "Earnings are going to be lower than this market expects," said HSBC Securities strategist Garry Evans. "But telecoms will be fine, even if the economy goes back into recession."

Bonds are likely to fall as demand for next week's sale of six-year government bonds may encourage investors to sell 10-year bonds. "Investors looking to reduce risk could provide demand," said Koji Hozumi, a fixed-income manager at New Japan Securities. Last week, the benchmark government bond yield rose 13 basis points to 1.885 per cent.

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