Nikkei set to spend 6th day trapped in narrow range

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Nikkei is set to stay trapped in a narrow range for a sixth straight day on Tuesday, held back by worries over the crippled nuclear plant and the impact of the earthquake and tsunami on corporate earnings.

Plutonium found in soil at the quake-stricken Fukushima nuclear complex heightened alarm on Tuesday over Japan’s protracted battle to contain the world’s worst atomic crisis in 25 years.

Selling pressure, equivalent to an 83 point fall will likely emerge, after the date passed for investors to receive dividends for the current business year ending March 31, market players estimated.

But analysts said the Nikkei will likely be supported by bargain-hunting by foreigners and short-term investors.

The head of the Tokyo Stock Exchange said on Monday that some Japanese companies, mainly manufacturers, will likely be late in announcing full-year earnings for this business year because of the earthquake and tsunami, which in turn would delay the payment of dividends.

Takashi Hiroki, chief strategist at Monex Securities, said that moves on Wall Street, which fell prey to profit-taking at the end of the session on Monday after three days of solid performance, were also unlikely to provide much direction for the Nikkei.

“All eyes are still on Fukushima. Without any major improvements there, the market won’t make any stronger gains,” said Hiroki.

With fundamentals unclear as many companies still try to estimate the damage sustained during the disaster, market players have turned to technicals for trading clues.

The Nikkei has stayed tethered in a narrow range for over a week now, keeping roughly between the closing price of 9,620.49 on March 14 and 9,441.66 — opening price on March 15.

Nikkei futures pointed to a slightly lower start on Tuesday. They last traded in Chicago at 9,375, 35 points below the last closing level in Osaka.

The benchmark Nikkei (.N225: Quote, Profile, Research) ended the Monday session down 0.6 percent or 57.60 points at 9,478.53. The broader Topix (.TOPX: Quote, Profile, Research) inched up 0.05 percent to 857.85.

The Nikkei is expected to trade between 9,300-9,500 on Tuesday, analysts said.

STOCKS TO WATCH

– JFE (5411.T: Quote, Profile, Research)

JFE Steel, the world’s No.5 steelmaker, has no plan to change its strong sales outlook after April as robust demand in Asia will likely offset production loss at its domestic customers after the March 11 earthquake.

– Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T: Quote, Profile, Research)

Toyota resumed domestic auto production on Monday for the first time since earthquake and tsunami, starting up assembly lines at two plants that make three hybrid models, the Nikkei business daily said.

– NEC Corp (6701.T: Quote, Profile, Research); Fujitsu Ltd (6702.T: Quote, Profile, Research)

Hurt by Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, IT vendors and have decided to refrain from making personnel and organizational changes, previously scheduled for April 1, the Nikkei business daily reported.

– Chugoku Electric Power (9504.T: Quote, Profile, Research)

Chugoku Electric said it may delay the planned March 2012 start of commercial operations for its third nuclear reactor because engineers are busy dealing with a crisis at a nuclear plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power (9501.T: Quote, Profile, Research).

– Kansai Electric Power Co (9503.T: Quote, Profile, Research)

Kansai Electric will supply crude oil to its Tokyo counterpart and delay the restart of two nuclear reactors under maintenance after an accident at the Tokyo utility’s Fukushima nuclear plant, Kansai Electric officials said on Monday. [ID:nL3E7ES0UN] (Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

Nikkei set to spend 6th day trapped in narrow range