TOKYO Japan's Nikkei average is expected to tread in a range on Thursday, with profit-taking likely to emerge after a rally of more than 10 percent in February but support seen firm after the European Central Bank's liquidity operation.
The Nikkei is set to trade between 9,700 and 9,800 on Thursday, strategists said, after Nikkei futures in Chicago closed at 9,755, up 45 points or 0.5 percent, from the Osaka close of 9,710.
"Japanese markets only recently jumped into the global equities rally so even if there is profit-taking I doubt that the index will fall much in the weeks ahead. That said, stocks that were bought heavily in February may see some profit-taking today," said Kenichi Hirano, operating officer at Tachibana Securities.
The Nikkei ended flat at 9,723.24 on Wednesday, but logged its best February performance in two decades, while the broader Topix .TOPX slipped 0.3 percent to 835.96.
A total of 800 banks grabbed 530 billion euros at the ECB's offering of cheap three-year funds on Wednesday, slightly more than analysts had expected for the bank's second long-term refinancing operation.
"The amount offered by the ECB was within expectations and adds to the excess liquidity already being offered by central banks that is currently supporting markets," said Hirano.
U.S. stocks slipped overnight after the Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke offered a tempered view of the U.S. economy and gave no hint of further easing moves, disappointing investors hoping for a signal of more stimulus. >Wall St snaps 4-day advance after Bernanke comments .N >Dollar gains vs euro, yen as Bernanke gives no QE3 signal<FRX/> >US bonds slip as Bernanke fails to signal stimulus <US/> >Gold down 5 pct, biggest one-day drop in 3 years <GOL/> >Oil ends February higher on upbeat U.S. Fed report.
(Reporting by Mari Saito)