Japanese Stocks Fluctuate; Tokyo Electric Tumbles to 1977 Low

Japanese stocks fluctuated as Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear station, fell to its lowest level since 1977, while Sumitomo Metal Industries Ltd. rose after restarting a furnace halted by this month’s earthquake.

Tokyo Electric fell 15 percent. Sony Corp., an electronics maker that closed plants due to component shortages, dropped 0.8 percent. Japan Tobacco Inc., the world’s third-largest publicly traded cigarette maker, slumped 2.2 percent after saying it will halt shipments because of factory damage. Sumitomo Metal Industries, the country’s No. 3 steelmaker, climbed 5.6 percent.

“Supply-chain problems are spreading and that suggests the manufacturing recovery will probably be slower than investors initially expected,” Junichi Misawa, head of equity investment at Tokyo-based STB Asset Management Co., which oversees about $14 billion. “The outlook will improve if more companies like Sumitomo Metal Industries resume production.”

The Nikkei 225 Stock Average declined 0.4 percent to 9,501.64 at the 11 a.m. trading break in Tokyo. The broader Topix index was little changed at 857.58 after earlier rising as much as 0.2 percent. The Nikkei dropped 7 percent from March 11 to March 25, the biggest decline among indexes for the world’s largest equity markets, after the earthquake and tsunami killed more than 10,000 people, razed homes and factories and crippled the Fukushima nuclear-power station northeast of Tokyo.

U.S. Growth Upgraded

Futures on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index increased 0.1 percent today. In New York, the index gained 0.3 percent to 1,313.80 on March 25 after the pace of economic growth was revised higher and Oracle Corp.’s profit forecast beat analyst estimates.

The U.S. economy grew at a 3.1 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter, led by a jump in consumer spending that will be hard to match early in the year as energy prices surge. The growth numbers compare with a 2.8 percent estimate issued last month, figures from the Commerce Department showed on March 25 in Washington.

As the worst atomic accident since Chernobyl entered its third week, the Japanese government said soil near the Fukushima plant would be tested for plutonium contamination. The radioactive metal was used in one of the reactors and its presence outside the plant would suggest fuel rod damage.

Radiation Levels

Radiation levels in water in the Fukushima Dai-Ichi No. 2 reactor’s turbine building were measured at more than 1,000 millisieverts per hour, Japan’s nuclear safety agency said on March 27. That level is higher than the dose that would cause vomiting, hair loss and diarrhea, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Tokyo Electric plunged for a fourth day, losing 15 percent to 720 yen, a level not seen since February 1977. The decline was the biggest on the Nikkei.

Sony, which partially closed five domestic plants until March 31, fell 0.8 percent. Tokyo Electron, which has shut a factory in earthquake-struck Iwate prefecture, dropped 3.1 percent. Tiremaker Bridgestone Corp., which has also closed a plant, lost 0.7 percent.

Japan Tobacco slumped 2.2 percent. The company said it will halt shipments between March 30 and April 10 because of damage to factories.

Sumitomo Metal Industries jumped 5.6 percent, the most on the Nikkei 225. The company said it restarted the No. 1 blast furnace at its Kashima works, which was halted after the earthquake and tsunami. Both furnaces at the Kashima plant are operational, it said.

Shares rose also as most companies in the Topix index will go ex-dividend tomorrow, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Denso Corp., an auto-parts maker planning to pay a final dividend of 22 yen a share, climbed 1.9 percent. Honda Motor Co. advanced 0.7 percent as the carmaker will pay a dividend to those who own the stock as of today.

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