May 19, 2020 / 3:12 AM / 10 days ago

Nikkei hits 2-1/2 month high on economy reopening hopes

SYDNEY, May 19 (Reuters) - Japanese shares rose to a two-and-a-half month high on Tuesday as encouraging early-stage data for a potential coronavirus vaccine boosted hopes for a swift reopening of the global economy.

The benchmark Nikkei average gained 1.9% to 20,517.42 by the midday break, highest since March 6, in line with its Wall Street and Asian peers.

Data from Moderna Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine, the first to be tested in the United States, showed it produced protective antibodies in a small group of healthy volunteers, the company said on Monday.

In a positive response to this, U.S. stocks jumped on Monday, with the S&P 500 closing at a 10-week high, while the Dow and the Nasdaq rose 3.9% and 2.4%, respectively.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan last traded up 1.7% in Asian trade.

Traders said the news of Moderna’s success with a potential coronavirus vaccine trial lifted investors’ risk appetite globally.

The broader Topix advanced 1.7% to 1,484.04 by the midday recess, also hitting its highest level since March 6, with all but one of the 33 sector sub-indexes on the Tokyo exchange trading higher.

Highly cyclical iron and steel, air transport and sea transport were the top three performing sectors on the main bourse.

Panasonic Corp surged 6.0% after the company said on Monday it was seeing strong demand for battery cells from U.S. partner Tesla Inc and they were in talks to expand their joint plant in Nevada, which is now profitable.

Japan’s top oil and gas exploration company Inpex Corp added 3.4% as oil prices climbed to a two month-high on Monday following signs that producers were following through on planned output reductions.

Bucking the overall market, the Nikkei’s heavyweight SoftBank Group Corp shed 2.0% after it reported a stunning $18 billion loss at its Vision Fund, pushing the tech conglomerate to a record loss and highlighting the deepening crisis at its portfolio companies.

Separately, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday the conglomerate was in talks to sell “a significant portion” of its T-Mobile US stake to controlling shareholder Deutsche Telekom AG. (Reporting by Tomo Uetake; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)

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