Japan shares end flat, down 8% for week on economic jitters


By Stanley White

TOKYO, April 3 (Reuters) - Japanese shares ended flat on Friday helped by health care and energy firms, but investors refrained from aggressive bets ahead of U.S. unemployment data later in the day.

The Nikkei index ended up 0.01% at 17,820.19 in a subdued session that saw shares bounce between gains and losses. For the week, the index was down 8.1% as fear about the economic costs of the coronavirus hurt global equity markets.

Investors sought shares of health care companies that are expected to make a profit as researchers race to find medicines to treat the global coronavirus epidemic.

Some oil producers and industrial firms also got a boost on hopes a truce among major oil producers will relieve some of the massive oversupply in the energy market.

Despite the gains on Friday, the Nikkei fell 8% this week as fear about the economic costs of the coronavirus hurt global equity markets.

Investors are now looking to Friday's U.S. non-farm payrolls report for March, which is expected to show the world's largest economy lost 100,000 jobs as companies quickly jettisoned workers in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

"We are waiting for non-farm payrolls, but a lot of bad news has already been priced in so it's hard to say how much markets will react," said Ayako Sera, market strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank in Tokyo.

"Japan also has its own problem with the virus. If the government declares a state of emergency, that would be bad for Japanese stocks."

Draconian restrictions on personal movement aimed at curbing the spread of the flu-like virus are widely expected to throw the global economy into recession.

Infections in Japan have been rising recently, and some investors worry the government will declare a state of emergency, which would weigh on an already stuttering economy.

There were 80 advancers on the Nikkei index against 142 decliners on Friday.

The largest percentage gainers in the index were chemicals maker Denka Co Ltd 4061.T up 24.03%, followed by medical products and devices maker Fujifilm Holdings Corp 4901.T gaining 6.25%, and parcel delivery firm Yamato Holdings Co Ltd 9064.T up by 4.44%.

Fujifilm said on Friday a subsidiary of the company will release a new coronavirus testing kit on April 15 that can shorten the time to deliver results to around two hours.

Fujifilm has also begun clinical trials of its antiviral drug Avigan as a potential treatment of coronavirus symptoms. Denka Co will supply the raw chemicals used to make Avigan.

The largest percentage losses in the index were auto maker Subaru Corp 7270.T down 8.22%, followed by department store operators J.Front Retailing Co Ltd 3086.T losing 7.75% and Marui Group Co Ltd 8252.T down by 5.83%.

The broader TOPIX index .TOPX fell 0.36% to 1,325.13 on Friday. For the week the TOPIX was down 9.2%.

The volume of shares traded on the Tokyo Stock Exchange's main board .TOPX was 1.5 billion, compared to the average of 2.09 billion in the past 30 days.

U.S. data on Thursday showed initial claims for unemployment benefits rose to a record 6.65 million in the latest week from an unrevised 3.3 million the previous week.

Dismal manufacturing data from around the globe has dented sentiment this week.

With global coronavirus infections now crossing the 1 million mark, a return to business as usual in the near term seems unlikely, with economic activity likely to contract further.

(Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

((stanley.white@tr.com; +81 (0)3 4563 2799; twitter.com/stanleywhite1 ;))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


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