Japanese stocks crept lower in early Thursday trading, with financials broadly weaker but some utilities enjoying robust gains. The Nikkei Stock Average sat 0.3% weaker about 30 minutes into the session, extending a 0.2% retreat the previous day, while the Topix was 0.4% weaker, and the dollar was changing hands for �123.47, not much changed from its levels 24 hours earlier. With the U.S. Federal Reserve indicating an interest-rate hike still likely for this year, and with uncertainty over whether the Bank of Japan will add to its easing program on Friday, the financials were mostly lower, tracking losses for their U.S. peers. Decliners included Mizuho Financial Group Inc. (down 1.6%), Daiwa Securities Group Inc. (down 1.1%), and Resona Holdings Inc. (down 1.7%), while Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. fell 0.9%, getting no help from a Nikkei report that its Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ unit would be the first in Japan to sell a yuan-denominated bond. On the upside, some electricity providers saw solid gains, with Tokyo Electric Power Co. up 1.2%, Hokkaido Electric Power Co. up 2.8% and Kansai Electric Power Co. rising 1.7%, after Japan passed the last of its electricity and city-gas market reforms Wednesday. But Tokyo Gas Co. and Osaka Gas Co. -- which could lose their pipeline networks -- fell 0.5% and 0.3%, respectively. Farther upstream, energy majors lost ground, tracking a retreat for crude-oil futures, with JX Holdings Inc. down 1.8%, Japan Petroleum Exploration Co. down 1% and Showa Shell Sekiyu K.K. down 0.8%. Among other sore spots, auto shares mostly lost ground (Nissan Motor Co. down 1.4%, Mitsubishi Motors Corp. down 1.5%, Honda Motor Co. down 0.6%), as did convenience-store chains (ABC-Mart Inc. down 1.1%, FamilyMart Co. down 1.3%, Seven & I Holdings Co. down 1.6%). Shares of beauty-product seller Mandom Corp. were down 1%, with a Nikkei earnings preview forecasting the company to post a 6% gain in April-June operating profit.
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