Nikkei set for 7th day of gains on optimism over shareholder returns
* Nikkei's rally longest since last December * SMK, Marubeni up on better shareholder return hopes * Tepco soars on report of contract for reactor in Qatar By Ayai Tomisawa TOKYO, May 25 (Reuters) - Japan's Nikkei share average rose for a seventh day, hitting a fresh 15-year high on Monday morning, helped by ongoing optimism for higher shareholder returns and the recovering economy. The Nikkei 225 gained 0.7 percent to 20,409.05, the highest level since April 2000. The Nikkei has risen for seven straight days on the brighter outlook of shareholders, strong corporate earnings, optimism for the recovering economy and expectations that the U.S. Federal Reserve will hold off from raising interest rates soon. The benchmark has gained 4.2 percent over the past seven days, the longest winning streak since last December. "It's not like there is a new catalyst to lift the market further up. It's an ongoing expectation that shareholder returns are getting better. The environment for the market is getting better," said Hikaru Sato, a senior technical analyst at Daiwa Securities. Companies announcing better shareholder returns are rising. SMK Corp gained 3.0 percent after saying that it would buy back up to 1 million shares, or 1.39 percent of shares outstanding, worth up to 500 million yen. Marubeni Corp rose 1.4 percent after the Nikkei business daily said it was looking to increase its dividend payout ration as it seeks to better reward shareholders. Yamada Denki added 2.3 percent after the Nikkei reported that the home electronics chain plans to close at least 40 stores by the end of the month. Tokyo Electric Power Co surged 5.5 percent after the Nikkei reported that it and Mitsubishi Corp have received an order to construct a large power plant in Qatar. Bucking the market's strength, Prima Meat dropped 5.0 percent after saying it would raise up to 10.1 billion yen through common shares and a private placement. Separately, Japan's trade data released early on Monday had limited market impact. Ministry of Finance data showed exports in April grew 8.0 percent from a year earlier, versus expectations for 6.4 percent growth by economists in a Reuters poll, slowing from a 8.5 percent gain in March. The broader Topix gained 0.7 percent to 1,658.51 and the JPX-Nikkei Index 400 advanced 0.6 percent to 14,998.35. (Editing by Jacqueline Wong)
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