Nikkei steady after rally, shippers outperform

TOKYO Mon Feb 20, 2012 10:23pm EST

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Nikkei average steadied on Tuesday after hitting a six-month closing high, though shippers outperformed after a report major shipping firms were considering cutting the size of their fleets to help improve earnings.

Olympus Corp (7733.T) climbed 2.6 percent after the Nikkei business daily said the scandal-hit company plans to promote veteran executive Hiroyuki Sasa to president in April.

By the midday break, the Nikkei .N225 was down 0.05 percent at 9,480.79 in a choppy session before news that euro zone finance ministers had reached a deal for a second bailout package for Greece. The index has rallied 6 percent in the past seven sessions.

"The 9,500 mark is a key level for sentiment. I don't think we can easily top this level and go higher. But support is also solid," said Yoshihiko Tabei, chief analyst of capital markets at Kazaka Securities.

"The Greece bailout agreement has already been priced in by the market, so it's unlikely to move on the news later today."

Trading volume on the Nikkei after the morning session was 65 percent of its full daily average for the past 90 days.

Japan's sea transport subindex .ISHIP.T rose 1.4 percent as the best sectoral performer after the Nikkei said Nippon Yusen KK (9101.T) was considering disposing of some 30 ships, while Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd (9104.T) and Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd (9107.T) were both considering cutting about 10 ships each.

The sales under consideration would generate a combined 50 billion yen ($629 million) for the three firms, the newspaper said.

Nippon Yusen advanced 1.2 percent, Mitsui O.S.K. climbed 1.9 percent and Kawasaki Kisen gained 1.6 percent.

A sales trader said the shipping sector still faced many headwinds, including overcapacity.

"If they can't put on a good 5, 10 percent as you would have thought on the back of such news, then you really figure they are probably priced the best," he said.

Stocks that have performed well in the rally succumbed to profit taking, with Nissan Motor Co (7201.T) down 0.9 percent and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group (8316.T) losing 0.6 percent.

The broader Topix .TOPX dipped 0.05 percent to 818.61.

"It's only natural that people are taking profits," said Takashi Hiroki, chief strategist at Monex Inc.

He expected investors to switch to small cap stocks from large cap stocks, however, as big caps have outperformed their smaller peers.

The benchmark Nikkei is up 7.7 percent this month, taking this year's gains so far to more than 12 percent, supported by a run of strong economic data out of the United States, as well as the European Central Bank's liquidity injection of nearly half a trillion euros and further easing steps by the Bank of Japan.

If the index were to finish the month with the current gains, it would be the best February performance since 1991. ($1 = 79.4700 Japanese yen)

(Editing by Joseph Radford)