A stronger yen and mixed U.S. lead weren't enough to hold back Japanese stocks early Thursday, with the Nikkei Average rising 0.4% and the Topix up 0.5%, helped in no small part by the market's ringing endorsement of Sony Corp.'s new business plan. Sony President Kazuo Hirai said late Wednesday that the conglomerate would spin off its audio-visual business and likely many of its other electronics units, and investors reacted by bidding the shares up 3.8% in early Tokyo trading. And although the yen was higher (dollar buying �118.72 vs. �119.08 at the Wednesday stock close), exporters appeared to get a bit of a boost from trade data out just ahead of the open showing January exports 17% higher than a year earlier, well above a forecast gain of about 12% from a Wall Street Journal survey of economists. Among the majors, Panasonic Corp. rose 1%, Nikon Corp. added 1.7%, Casio Computer Co. improved by 1.9%, and Trend Micro Inc. shot 5% higher on the back of solid earnings results. But the auto makers were mixed amid concerns over U.S. sales due to the ongoing labor strife at U.S. West Coast ports, with Toyota Motor Corp. flat, Nissan Motor Co. up 0.8% and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. down 0.7%. Meanwhile, shares of bankrupt Skymark Airlines Inc. continued their plunge, down 22% -- and off more than 91% for the year -- after a Nikkei news report said Japan Airlines Co. had decline to sponsor the budget carrier's rehabilitation. Shares of JAL, which itself emerged from bankruptcy earlier this decade, were down 1.7%.
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