* Nikkei top heavy after recovering 20,000 this week - analyst
* ECB decision likely to set Nikkei direction short-term - analyst
By Ayai Tomisawa
TOKYO, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Tokyo stocks edged down in choppy trade on Thursday, but losses were limited as a softer yen offset the impact of a sharp fall on Wall Street, while investors awaited the outcome of the European Central Bank’s meeting later in the day.
The Nikkei share average fell 0.3 percent to 19,874.42 in mid-morning trade.
The benchmark recovered to its highest level in more than three months this week, helped by a weaker yen and the prospect of new stimulus measures from the ECB. Weaker-than-expected euro zone inflation data on Wednesday further underpinned hopes for strong central bank action.
Analysts say that more stimulus measures from the ECB could lift risk appetite in the Japanese market, but gains may be limited in the short-term as investors look to the next catalyst, which is whether the U.S. Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this month.
“The ECB’s decision will likely set the direction for the Japanese market tomorrow and beyond, but it’s also true that the market is seen overbought recently,” said Hikaru Sato, a senior technical analyst at Daiwa Securities.
He added that the benchmark is seen top heavy after it touched the 20,000-mark early this week for the first time in over three months.
U.S. stocks tumbled after hawkish comments from U.S. Fed Chair Janet Yellen boosted expectations of an interest rate hike, which strengthened the dollar.
Though overall sentiment was supported by a weaker yen, exporters were mixed as investors avoided taking large positions before a major event.
Toyota Motor Corp was flat, Panasonic Corp shed 1.7 percent and Advantest Corp rose 0.6 percent.
Nikon Corp outperformed, rising 1.5 percent after SMBC Nikko Securities raised its rating to ‘neutral’ from ‘underperform’, citing strong capital investment in small-to-mid size flat panel display including organic light-emitting diode displays.
The broader Topix dropped 0.4 percent to 1,596.73 and the JPX-Nikkei Index 400 shed 0.3 percent to 14,377.77.
Reporting by Ayai Tomisawa; Editing by Eric Meijer