January 24, 2020 / 6:33 AM / a month ago

Japan shares end higher as traders assess China virus spread, bet on drugmakers

TOKYO, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Japanese shares ended slightly higher on Friday in a see-saw session as worries about the spread of a new virus in China played tug-of-war with bets that the health crisis will boost drug makers’ earnings.

The Nikkei index ended 0.13% higher at 23,827.18 points, but was down 0.9% for the week.

The markets started on a positive note as information technology and industrial equipment stocks rose following better-than-expected sales and profit forecasts from U.S. chipmaker Intel Corp. But investors turned cautious after China said the death count from the coronavirus had risen to 25, with 830 confirmed cases as of Jan. 23. Chinese authorities placed two cities on lockdown to contain the virus.

In the afternoon session stocks started rising again due to gains in the healthcare sector.

Investors are worried the virus will continue to spread as millions of Chinese travel during the week-long Lunar New Year holiday starting on Friday.

Reports of more infections and deaths could dent travel and tourism spending, which could impact earnings of airline and consumer goods companies, while benefiting healthcare goods and drugmakers.

“The number of deaths so far are relatively low, but we do not know how this will spread during the Lunar New Year,” said Hideyuki Ishiguro, senior strategist at Daiwa Securities in Tokyo.

“Having said that, I don’t think the downward pressure on Japanese stocks will last long.”

On the Nikkei index, there were 97 advancers on the Nikkei index against 120 decliners The largest percentage gainers in the index were property developer Mitsubishi Estate Co Ltd up 3.76%, followed by drug maker Daiichi Sankyo Co Ltd gaining 2.61%, and Nissan Chemical Corp up by 2.61%.

The largest percentage losses in the index were Isuzu Motors Ltd down 3.68%, followed by non-ferrous metals maker Toho Zinc Co Ltd losing 2.87%, and Suzuki Motor Corp down by 2.57%.

The broader Topix index ended trade Friday unchanged at 1,730.44. For the week, the Topix fell 0.29%.

The volume of shares traded on the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s main board was 0.97 billion, compared with the average of 1.1 billion in the past 30 days. (Reporting by Stanley White; editing by Uttaresh.V & Kim Coghill)

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