* Asahi Group Holdings soars on share buyback and record profit * Chipmakers in favour after U.S. competitor releases strong forecast * BOJ in spotlight, likely to stand pat on policy By Sophie Knight TOKYO, Feb 14 Japan's Nikkei share average inched up in early trade on Thursday as robust earnings spurred on chipmakers and a handful of other companies. Still, overall buying activity was relatively restrained, partly as the market was not expecting any fresh easing measures from the Bank of Japan at the end of its two-day policy meeting later Thursday. "There are no broad catalysts to shift the market today, particularly because there is basically no expectation of any action from the BOJ," said Takashi Hiroki, chief strategist at Monex. "All we've got is very mixed movements from individual stocks." By mid-morning, the Nikkei had moved up 0.3 percent to 11,286.13, while the broader Topix lost 0.4 percent to 953.28. Investors zeroed in on Asahi Group Holdings Inc, making it the top-weighted gainer with a rise of 6.4 percent after the beverage maker said it would buy back up to 30 billion yen ($322 million) worth of its own shares, or 4.3 percent of all its issued stock. Asahi also posted record sales and net profit for the year ended December 31 on Wednesday, and said its appetite for overseas acquisitions is still strong. Taiyo Yuden Co was the second-most-weighted gainer, jumping 13.6 percent to its highest level since July 2001 after the electronic component maker raised its full-year profit outlook to 3 billion yen, compared with a previous forecast to break even. Japanese chipmakers Dainippon Screen MFG Co Ltd, Advantest Corp and Tokyo Electron Ltd posted gains of between 3.6 and 8.5 percent after a forecast from U.S. counterpart Applied Materials Inc came out largely ahead of analysts' estimates as smartphones and tablets drive sales. However, earnings were a negative catalyst for Oki Electric Industry Co Ltd, which lost 3.7 percent after the telecommunication equipment maker cut its operating profit forecast for the year ending March 31 by 29 percent. Investors will also be keeping an eye on the BOJ, which is widely expected to keep monetary policy steady, but may improve its assessment of the economy and rebuff growing global concern that Tokyo is trying to deliberately weaken the yen. The currency has slumped 15 percent against the dollar since mid-November, accelerating as Japan's new government put relentless pressure on the BOJ to launch more aggressive policy easing. The yen's slide has sparked concerns of a currency war due to the risks of competitive devaluations. "Usually the BOJ doing nothing causes a bit of disappointment, but since there are concerns about the flak Japan might get at the G20 this weekend for the weakening yen, standing pat will actually be a relief to the market," said Masayuki Doshida, senior market analyst at Rakuten Securities. Exporters were helped by a softer yen on Thursday morning, following the currency's sharp rebound in the previous session after a Group of Seven official voiced concern about excessive moves in the Japanese currency. Mazda Motor Corp put on 1.4 percent to snap three straight days of losses, while Sony Corp gained 2.1 percent.
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