Japan Stocks Pull Higher, As Financials Lead Advance

Japan stocks rose in early Monday trading, shrugging off economic growth data that missed expectations, as strength among financial shares helped carry the market higher. The Nikkei Stock Average rose 0.8% to 18,053, hitting a fresh seven-year high (though it would still need to surpass 20,000 to break its record for the current millennium), while the Topix added 1%. October-December economic growth was 0.6% for the quarter, pulling the economy out of recession but still below the 0.9% growth tipped by a Wall Street Journal poll. The yen briefly rose after the data but soon eased back to its level ahead of the numbers, with the dollar at �118.73, just slightly lower than its �118.94 on Friday. The big tech and industrial names were mixed, with Sony Corp. up 1.2% and Komatsu Ltd. up 1.3%, while Hitachi Ltd. lost 0.7%, and TDK Corp. fell 0.5%. But financials were solidly higher, with Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. enjoying a 2.7% improvement as its banking unit became the first Japanese lender approved to offer special "free-trade" accounts at China's Shanghai Free-Trade Zone, facilitating cross-border trans-currency banking, the Nikkei reported. Other gainers in the sector included Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. (up 2.6%), Nomura Holdings Inc. (up 3%), Shinsei Bank Ltd. (up 2.7%) and Credit Saison Co. (up 3.4%). Meanwhile, robot maker Fanuc Corp. rallied 4.3% after confirming a Nikkei news report saying it planned to invest about $1.1 billion in Japanese production and research facilities. The bounce in oil since Friday helped energy shares, as Showa Shell Sekiyu K.K. rose 2.3%, and Inpex Corp. added 1.7%, though some utilities pulled back, with Hokkaido Electric Power Co. and Chubu Electric Power Co. down 1% each, and Tokyo Electric Power Co. slipping 0.2%.

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