Nikkei choppy, holds at 15-year high as Yellen supports
* Nikkei has gained 3.4 pct in five days * Some pullback possible as Nikkei hovering at 15-year peak * Banks outperform on report FSA will ease regulations By Ayai Tomisawa TOKYO, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Japanese stocks steadied around a 15-year high on Wednesday morning in a choppy morning session, as cautiousness over an over-heating market was partially countered by U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's message of policy flexibility. The Nikkei share average opened slightly higher but then traversed positive and negative territories in the first few hours of trade. At 0124 GMT, it was up 0.2 percent at 18,643.28 after peaking at 18,648.77 earlier, the highest point since April 2000. A higher close would mark the sixth consecutive winning day for the benchmark index, which is up 3.4 percent in the past five sessions. Yellen told a congressional committee that the Fed is preparing to consider rate increases "on a meeting-by-meeting basis." While economists have been expecting a hike as soon as June, some investors saw Yellen's comments as an indicator of a later liftoff for the Fed's first rate hike since 2006. Analysts said that most investors appear to be taking the latest Yellen comments as aligning with the Fed's dovish stance in minutes of the last policy meeting. "Although the Japanese market got a slightly negative impact from the stronger yen, the overall impact was limited," said Takuya Takahashi, a strategist at Daiwa Securities, noting the dollar's pullback after the Yellen comments. He expects profit-taking could kick in at anytime given the Nikkei's hovering around 15-year highs. Banks outperformed the market after the Nikkei business daily reported that Japan's Financial Services Agency is moving to give bank groups the freedom to expand into e-commerce, mobile payments and other fields beyond traditional financial services. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group gained 0.8 percent and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group added 0.6 percent. Exporters were mixed as the dollar was down 0.2 percent at 118.71 yen. A stronger yen erodes Japanese exporters' competitiveness. Toyota Motor Corp dropped 0.3 percent and Nissan Motor Co added 0.5 percent. The broader Topix gained 0.2 percent to 1,510.75 and the JPX-Nikkei Index 400 advanced 0.2 percent to 13,700.42. (Editing by Shri Navaratnam)
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