Japan Stocks Rise to Open 2012 Amid Signs of Economic Resilience

Japanese stocks rose in the first day of 2012 trading, with the Topix Index posting its biggest gain in 10 weeks, after reports from the U.S. and Germany added to signs the global economy is weathering Europe’s debt crisis.

Sony Corp., Japan’s biggest exporter of consumer electronics, gained 1.6 percent. Elpida Memory Inc. jumped 5.6 percent after a report the money-losing chipmaker is in talks with Toshiba Corp. to integrate operations. Nomura Holdings Inc. climbed the most on the Nikkei 225 Stock Average after SMBC Nikko Securities Inc. said the brokerage probably returned to profit in the quarter that just ended.

The Topix rose 2 percent to 742.99 at the 3 p.m. close in Tokyo, the biggest advance since Oct. 27. All 33 industry indexes in the gauge advanced, led by securities firms, last year’s worst performing group. The Nikkei 225 climbed 1.2 percent to 8,560.11. Japanese markets were closed Jan. 2-3 for the New Year’s holiday.

“The U.S. has been surprising people with some pretty good numbers and that’s helped to lift the mood, which had gotten too pessimistic,” said Koichi Kurose, chief economist in Tokyo at Resona Bank Ltd., which oversees the equivalent of $68 billion. “Today is just one day, but it’s a little New Year’s gift.”

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index advanced 1.6 percent yesterday in New York to its highest level since Oct. 28 as manufacturing across the globe recovered in December. Futures on the gauge were little changed today.

Manufacturing Gains

Factory output in the U.S. grew in December at the fastest pace in six months, according to the Tempe, Arizona-based Institute for Supply Management. Separate reports this week also showed Australian manufacturing expanded for the first time since June, while similar Chinese and German data beat estimates.

“Concerns about the global economic future are receding,” said Hiroichi Nishi, an equities manager in Tokyo at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc. “Markets across the board have started this year’s trading on a positive note.”

Sony gained 1.6 percent to 1,404 yen. Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co., Japan’s two biggest carmakers by revenue, gained at least 3 percent. Global sales of cars and light trucks will increase 6.7 percent this year, led by Chinese demand, market researcher R.L. Polk & Co. said yesterday.

Investors surveyed by Bloomberg forecast the Topix will rebound 20 percent in 2012 as the lowest valuations in almost three years lure buyers. Stocks on the gauge trade at an average of 0.9 times book value, compared with 1.4 on the Stoxx Europe 600 Index and 2.1 for the S&P 500 Index.

Japanese stocks plunged last year amid a surge in the yen, natural disasters and nuclear meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant. The Topix dropped 19 percent in 2011, eclipsing an 11 percent decline on the Stoxx Europe 600 Index, ground zero for the debt crisis.

The following were among the most active shares in the Japanese market today. Stock symbols are in parentheses after company names.

Banks: Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. (8306 JT), Japan’s largest bank by market value, advanced 3.4 percent to 338 yen. Rival Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. (8316 JT) rose 3.7 percent to 2,224 yen. Shares in Japan’s banking sector are undervalued, Citigroup Inc. said in report today

Energy companies: Crude jumped 4.2 percent to settle at $102.96 a barrel in New York yesterday, the highest level since May 10 on concern sanctions against Iran may disrupt shipments.

Inpex Corp. (1605 JT), the nation’s largest oil explorer by market value, gained 2.7 percent to 498,000 yen. Japan Petroleum Exploration Co. (1662 JT) advanced 2.8 percent to 3,095 yen.

Elpida Memory Inc. (6665 JT) jumped 5.6 percent to 378 yen. The chipmaker is in talks with Toshiba Corp. (6502 JT) to integrate operations, DigiTimes reported, without citing anyone. The Japanese government is pushing the companies to combine their businesses to maintain competitiveness against Korea’s chip industry, DigiTimes said.

The report comes after the Asahi newspaper on Dec. 29 said Elpida may seek to delay repayment of bailout funds. The company in August 2009 received a 30 billion yen capital injection from the state-owned Development Bank of Japan following a record loss. Toshiba slid 1 percent to 312 yen today.

Komatsu Ltd. (6301 JT) climbed 3.3 percent to 1,859 yen after the Nikkei newspaper reported the construction machinery maker will invest as much as 15 billion yen to increase capacity at three domestic factories by the year ending March 2014.

Nomura Holdings Inc. (8604 JT) rallied 6.9 percent to 249 yen after SMBC Nikko Securities said the brokerage probably returned to pretax profit in the October-December period. Earnings will confirm that “the worst is over” for Japan’s biggest brokerage, whose stock price fell by half last year, the report said. Daiwa Securities Group Inc. (8601 JT), the country’s No. 2 securities firm, jumped 4.6 percent to 251 yen.

Omron Corp. (6645 JO) advanced 4.3 percent to 1,614 yen after the Nikkei reported the electronics maker has developed software that translates short foreign-language texts such as signs and menus using smartphone cameras.

Suzuki Motor Corp. (7269 JT) added 2.2 percent to 1,627 yen. The carmaker said it will spend about 60 billion yen to increase capacity in Indonesia. Some of the money will used to another factory to build engines, Suzuki said.

TonenGeneral Sekiyu K.K. (5012 JT) slumped 5.8 percent to 792 yen after Reuters reported Exxon Mobil Corp., the refiner’s parent, plans to sell most of its stake in the unit.

Toyo Engineering Corp. (6330 JT), a factory builder, gained 3.6 percent to 286 yen. Toyo, UTC Engenharia SA (7752396Z BZ) and Construtora Norberto Odebrecht SA (DBRE4 BZ) won a 180 billion yen order from Petroleo Brasileiro to construct water and power facilities for a refinery, according to a statement on the Japanese company’s website.

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