* Chip equipment makers soar on higher book-to-bill ratio
* French election results carefully eyed
By Ayai Tomisawa
TOKYO, April 20 (Reuters) - Japanese stocks rose on Thursday morning as the yen’s strong trend paused and the country’s strong trade data lifted sentiment, but mining shares underperformed on the back of a steep decline oil prices.
The Nikkei 225 share average rose 0.3 percent to 18,484.46 in midmorning trade.
But gains were limited, and market participants said Japanese stocks are expected to trade in a fixed range throughout the day as mounting tensions between North Korea and the United States, along with political uncertainty in Europe ahead of the French presidential elections, keep investors cautious.
“Even though a technical rebound in the Tokyo market lifts stocks, the basic trend to avoid risks hasn’t changed,” said Hiroyuki Nakai, chief strategist at Tokai Tokyo Research Center. “There is still so much uncertainty from global events.”
On Thursday, confidence was helped somewhat by data showing Japan’s exports rose 12.0 percent in March from a year earlier, marking the fourth straight month of gains due to strengthening global demand.
That compared with a 6.7 percent rise expected by economists in a Reuters poll.
Gainers included chip makers after Semiconductor Equipment Association of Japan said that producers of flat-panel-display equipment posted 55.86 billion yen in orders in March and a book-to-bill ratio of 1.40, up 36.5 percent from the previous month. A book-to-bill ratio of 1.40 means that 140 yen worth of new orders was received for every 100 yen of product billed for the month.
Tokyo Electron Ltd rose 1.4 percent, Advantest Corp jumped 4.5 percent and Disco Corp gained 1.3 percent.
However, mining stocks Inpex Corp and Japan Petroleum Exploration Co both dropped 1.2 percent after oil fell to a two-week low on Wednesday, hit by a surprising build in U.S. gasoline inventories and a rise in U.S. crude output.
The broader Topix gained 0.5 percent to 1,478.86 and the JPX-Nikkei Index 400 advanced 0.4 percent to 13,230.78. (Editing by Sam Holmes)