Nikkei hits 3-1/2-week high on Wall Street rally, Softbank jumps

Mon Feb 24, 2014 9:11pm EST

* Japan shares look undervalued given record profits-analyst
    * Investors still wary after Nikkei's underperformance this
year
    * Softbank gains on report it is seeking stake in Line Corp

    By Hideyuki Sano
    TOKYO, Feb 25 (Reuters) - The Nikkei average advanced to a
3-1/2-week peak on Tuesday after a rally in Wall Street shares
to historic highs triggered short-covering in battered Japanese
stocks.
    Shares of Softbank Corp climbed to their highest in
a month on a report that the company is seeking to buy a stake
in Line Corp, a mobile-messaging service controlled by South
Korea's Naver Corp.
    The Nikkei was up 1.2 percent at 15,013.29 as of
0208 GMT after touching 15,079.84, its highest since Jan. 31.
The benchmark has recovered about 40 percent of its losses since
it fell from a six-year peak hit in late December.
    "The market looks fairly cheap considering that Japanese
corporate profits are expected to hit record highs in the year
to March and are expected to rise further in the following
financial year," said Ryota Sakagami, chief strategist at SMBC
Nikko Securities.
    "Historically, it is highly unlikely that Japanese companies
would revise down their profit estimates when the U.S. economy
is strong and when the currency market is stable," he added.
    The S&P 500 index hit an intraday record high on
Monday as investors shrugged off a series of soft U.S. data as
distorted by bad weather.
    The Japanese currency has stayed not far from five-year
lows, with the dollar trading around 102.50 yen on
Tuesday.
    Yet many investors remain cautious about chasing the market
higher given Japanese shares' underperformance so far this year.
The Nikkei is still down 7.5 percent in the year to date.
    "Today's buying was driven more by unwinding of existing
(short) positions than fresh buying. I think it will take some
time before investors' appetites warm up," said Masato Futoi,
head of cash equity trading at Tokai Tokyo Securities.
    The gains were broad-based, with all of the Tokyo Stock
Exchange's 33 subindexes rising.
    Softbank shares rose 4.1 percent, hitting a four-week high,
after Bloomberg reported that Japan's third-largest mobile
carrier was seeking to buy a state in Line. 
    The broader Topix index rose 1.1 percent to 1231.89,
though it stopped short of breaking above Monday's high of
1234.30.
    The JPX-Nikkei Index 400, an index launched this
year comprised of firms with high return on equity and strong
corporate governance, rose 1.0 percent.