By Kiyoshi Takenaka
TOKYO, June 20 Nintendo Co. Ltd. 7974.OS on Wednesday shot past Panasonic maker Matsushita (6752.T) in market value and closed in on rival Sony Corp. (6758.T) as investors took heart from white hot demand for its Wii and DS game gear.
Nintendo shares closed up 1.4 percent at 44,500 yen, increasing its market capitalisation to 6.30 trillion yen ($51 billion).
That compares with Matsushita's 6.23 trillion yen and 6.64 trillion yen for Sony -- the world's largest and second-largest consumer electronics makers, each having sales more than eight times as big as Nintendo.
Shares in Nintendo, known for such game characters as Mario, Donkey Kong and Pokemon, have been on an uptrend over the past two years, driven initially by strong sales of its DS handheld players, and recently by growing popularity of the Wii console.
Nintendo launched the Wii in November. The device features a motion-sensitive controller that allows users to direct on-screen play by swinging it like a tennis racket or wielding it like a sword, opening a new avenue of game playing.
Sony also started selling its PlayStation 3 late last year, but it has seen slow demand so far due to its high price tag and limited availability of attractive software titles.
Nintendo's Wii outsold the PS3 by more than five to one in Japan in May, according to game magazine publisher Enterbrain.
"Nintendo is a market leader in everything it does now, which is basically the handheld as well as console gaming market. We haven't seen Nintendo being a market leader in both products for over a decade," KBC Securities analyst Hiroshi Kamide said.
"It shows what a fantastic market position Nintendo has at the moment in its industry."
Shares in Sony have gained 72 percent during the last two years, outperforming the Nikkei average's .N225 59 percent rise. But the performance is far outstripped by Nintendo shares, which jumped nearly four-fold over the same period.
Matsushita shares have put on 52 percent.
((Editing by Malcolm Whittaker; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com; +81-3-3432-8837; firstname.lastname@example.org))
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