TOKYO, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Japanese stocks remained flat in cautious trade early on Thursday as investors shifted toward defensive shares such as foods, a sector that led the morning session.
The Nikkei share average edged up 0.1 percent to end the morning session at 18,565.83.
Market players said there was a clear lack of conviction heading into the earnings season, with many investors staying on the sidelines, but added that sentiment had improved with regard to China. Shares with heavy exposure to China have gradually recovered as investors shake off early concerns about GDP figures released early in the week.
One of those sectors is steel, which added 1.63 percent during the morning session. Shares of JFE Holdings gained 3.4 percent while Kobe Steel added 2 percent. The foods sector was up 1.64 percent.
"They were practically giving steel stocks away a week ago and the snap back has been tremendous," said Nicholas Smith, a strategist at CLSA.
"Steel was on fire yesterday, and to see it gain a bit more today, is incredible."
The Topix sub-index for pharmaceuticals shed 1.2 percent during the morning session. Market participants said the sector had been hurt by concerns among investors that its profits might suffer because of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.
The broader Topix added 0.1 percent to 1,528.35 with all but 12 of its 33 sub-indexes in positive territory.
The JPX-Nikkei Index 400 rose 0.1 percent to 13,690.13.
Reporting by Joshua Hunt; Editing by Jacqueline Wong