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Business

Fanuc lifts Nikkei index above 19,000 points

Japanese shares have risen for the third straight day, lifting the country's Nikkei index above 19,000 points for the first time in 15 years. Appetite for risk was boosted by a falling yen and robotics maker Fanuc.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average gained 263 points, or 1.39 per cent, to end at 19,254 on Friday, while the broader-based Topix index was up 13 points, or 0.89 per cent.

The Nikkei ended at its best close since April 2000, boosted by a steadily falling Japanese currency, overnight gains on Wall Street and higher earnings expectations for Japanese stocks ahead of the first-quarter reporting season.

Overnight on Thursday, US stocks surged on Wall Street, lifting the Dow Jones 1.47 percent higher, while the S&P 500 index added 1.26 percent.

In foreign exchange markets, the US dollar bought 121.45 yen (0.94 euros), up from 121.29 yen on the previous day. The greenback's ascent against the yen is generally good for Japanese exporters as it makes them more competitive overseas and inflates the value of their repatriated profits.

Moreover, analysts are expecting strong corporate earnings as Japan's latest reporting season gets underway next month.

"There are lots of positive catalysts," Tsuyoshi Shimizu, chief strategist at Mizuho Asset in Tokyo, told Bloomberg News, adding that Japanese companies were likely to increase earnings by 20 percent.

Shares in electronics maker Panasonic rose 0.13 percent, while those in its national rival Toshiba gained 0.57 percent. Clothing chain operator Fast Retailing jumped 1.67 percent.

Cash cow to be milked

However, leading the charge on Friday was factory robotics manufacturer Fanuc whose share price jumped a whopping 13 percent to close at 26,870 yen.

The spike came as Japan's leading Nikkei business daily published an interview in which the firm's top executive said he was eyeing ways to boost shareholder returns.

The company, which is known for its secrecy, also said it would set up an investor relations department.

The policy change comes after US hedge fund Third Point said in February it had invested in Fanuc and planned to push for change. Third Point owner, US billionaire Daniel Loeb, said at the time that Fanuc was sitting on $8.5 billion in cash and had no debt, "which is hard to understand given the company's business quality, growth opportunities and low capital intensity."

Fanuc is one of the world's biggest makers of factory robotics with its products used in a range of industries, including the auto and electronics sectors.

The company insisted, however, that its attempts to improve transparency were not related to Third Point.

uhe/pad (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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