June 4, 2019 / 7:01 AM / a year ago

Nikkei flat as trade woes, strong yen saps risk appetite; SoftBank Group falls

* SoftBank Group takes hefty negative points from Nikkei

* Some manufacturers gain after dropping sharply in May

* Casio Computer soars on share buyback announcement

By Ayai Tomisawa

TOKYO, June 4 (Reuters) - Japan’s Nikkei ended nearly flat in choppy trade on Tuesday as festering trade tensions and a stronger yen curbed risk appetite, while extended losses for index-heavy SoftBank Group added to the overall pressure on the market.

The Nikkei share average dropped 0.01% to 20,408.54, after in and out of positive territory.

Escalating trade tensions between the United States and China have sapped investor risk appetite and rattled financial markets in the past month. In Japan, the Nikkei has lost 8% since the beginning of May. Overnight, there was more downbeat news, with the Nasdaq sliding into correction mode as the index lost more than 10% from its May 3 closing record. U.S. factory activity also disappointed, with the U.S. Institute for Supply Management’s gauge of manufacturing activity unexpectedly falling in May to the weakest level in more than 2-1/2 years amid global trade tensions.

During Asian trade, the dollar stood 0.1% easier at 107.980 yen after brushing 107.860, its lowest since Jan. 10.

“There are negative catalysts filled in the market such as the poor U.S. ISM, the weak Nasdaq market and a rising yen,” said Takuya Takahashi, a strategist at Daiwa Securities.

But Takahashi said that sharp losses in manufacturers’ stocks over the past month triggered temporary short-covering.

Fanuc Corp rose 2.2% after dropping 12% over the past month, while Tokyo Electron gained 3.2% after shedding 15%.

A drop in the U.S. technology sector overnight chilled investor sentiment, dragging down SoftBank Group Corp by 3.3%. The stock took a hefty negative 35 points off from the Nikkei, with traders citing concerns about the profitability of its tech-focused Vision Fund.

“Investors are starting to question the Vision Fund’s investment performance. They are questioning technology companies’ valuations whose sales are soaring but not the profitability,” said Makoto Kikuchi, the chief executive of Myojo Asset Management.

SoftBank Group stock tumbled 6.2% on Monday after the Wall Street Journal reported that the company’s bid to raise a second mega fund has met with a chilly reception from some of the world’s biggest money managers.

Ono Pharmaceutical dropped 2.3% after Kyodo news reported that Japan’s health ministry warned that taking the company’s cancer treatment Opdivo or Merck & Co’s Keytruda, marketed by MSD in Japan, carried the risk of serious side effects.

Casio Computer surged 1.7% after the company said that it will buy back up to 5 billion yen of its own shares.

The broader Topix added 0.01% to 1,499.09. (Editing by Shri Navaratnam & SImon Cameron-Moore)

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