Nikkei slips on profit-taking; investors bullish on 2015 prospects
* Traders bullish about prospects for next year * Nikkei may reach 19,500 yen - analysts * Data shows inflation and wages stagnant By Thomas Wilson TOKYO, Dec 26(Reuters) - Japanese stocks slipped on Friday as investors closed positions as the year-end approaches, but sentiment remained upbeat about prospects for 2015. With overseas markets closed on Thursday for Christmas, there was little in the way of market catalysts. The Nikkei benchmark fell 0.1 percent to 17,784.04 by 0105 GMT, after notching its first drop in six sessions on Thursday. Investors remained bullish on the performance of Japanese equities in the new year, expecting the average to exceed a 14-1/2 year high of 18,300.39. "Investors don't mind a small drop of the last couple of days as there's fresh hopes for a rally next year," said Mitsushige Akino, chief fund manager at Ichiyoshi Asset Management. Leading exporters' shares were steady as the yen traded at around 120.25 against the dollar. The weak yen boosts Japanese exporters' profits and may make firms more competitive. Japan's largest automaker Toyota Motor Corp added 0.4 percent, while Panasonic Corp slipped 0.2 percent. Large-cap firms were mixed, with mobile phone giant Softbank Corp ticking up 0.3 percent and Uniqlo clothes brand owner Fast Retailing Co Ltd losing 0.7 percent. But highlighting the challenges for Japan's economy in 2015, Japan's annual core consumer inflation slowed for a fourth consecutive month in November, data showed. Pressured by plummeting oil prices, the consumer core price index rose at an annual rate of 2.7 percent last month. Excluding April's 3 percentage point sales tax hike, the figure was 0.7 percent, underlining the difficulty of the Bank of Japan's uphill push to achieve 2 percent inflation. Household spending remained weak, separate data showed, given slow wages growth. Rising wages are crucial to the success of the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's reflationary policies, stagnant wages will mean any recovery from recession is likely to be fragile. Also in focus were initial public offering plans for Japan Post Holdings Co IPO-JAPP.T, one of the world's biggest financial institutions. Japan Post Holdings is expected to list its bank and insurance units separately in the IPO in Sept. 2015, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters this week. A briefing is scheduled at 0700 GMT. The broader Topix added 0.1 percent to 1,422.39, while the JPX-Nikkei Index 400 was flat at 12,923.88. (Reporting by Thomas Wilson; Editing by Eric Meijer)
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