TOKYO, March 24 (Reuters) - Japanese stocks were little changed on Thursday with investors reluctant to stake out fresh positions ahead of the end of the fiscal year.
Traders were also awaiting a flurry of U.S. data later in the day for clues on the health of the economy which could determine the pace of Federal Reserve interest rate increases this year. Japan will release inflation data on Friday.
The Nikkei share average edged up 0.1 percent to 17,023.20 by late morning.
“There’s a general sense of caution as we look ahead to tomorrow’s CPI and as we approach the end of the month, which is actually the end of the financial year for most listed stocks,” said Stefan Worrall, director of Japan equity sales at Credit Suisse.
“It would unquestionably be more desirable for policymakers in Japan to end the month on a higher note than we’re seeing right now. Unless the yen weakens substantially between now and the end of March, I imagine the Nikkei will have a hard time holding its current position.”
The U.S. dollar was steady at 112.65 yen after touching a six-day high of 112.905 overnight, while investors await the U.S. durable goods orders and jobless claims data, which could help support the case for the Fed to steadily tighten monetary policy.
Mitsui & Co Ltd shares plunged 7.1 percent to a one-month low after the trading firm said it is set to post its first net loss after a slide in energy and metal prices forced it to book 260 billion yen ($2.30 billion) in writedowns.
Mitsubishi Corp fell 2.5 percent after the Nikkei business daily reported it would also post its first annual loss due to massive writedowns resulting from the commodities slump.
Oil prices continued to slide in early Asian trading, adding to a slump in the previous session after U.S. stockpiles rose for a sixth straight week.
Apparel goods retailer Shimamura Co Ltd bucked the morning’s weakness, climbing 7 percent after the Nikkei business daily reported that its operating profit in the year through February 2016 was likely to increase 9 percent from the previous year.
The broader Topix was flat at 1,364.06 and the JPX-Nikkei Index 400 was flat at 12,311.28. ($1 = 112.8100 yen) (Reporting by Joshua Hunt; Editing by Kim Coghill)