TOKYO Japanese stocks are expected to trade in a tight range on Friday ahead of a key U.S. jobs report, although the Nikkei average is heading for its worst weekly loss since November on waning hopes of further U.S. stimulus and fresh concerns over the euro zone.
The Nikkei .N225 is likely to trade between 9,650 and 9,800, strategists said, while Nikkei futures in Chicago closed at 9,715 on Thursday, down 75 points or 0.8 percent from the Osaka close of 9,790.
"The market is going to be steady because we are heading towards the weekend and ahead of the U.S. jobs data ... I don't think people will be too active," said Takashi Hiroki, chief strategist at Monex Inc.
Economists polled by Reuters expect the nonfarm payrolls report due at 8.30 a.m. EDT to show the U.S. economy added 203,000 jobs in March. That would represent a fourth straight month of solid job creation, marking the longest stretch of monthly employment gains topping 200,000 since 1999.
On Thursday, the benchmark Nikkei dropped 0.5 percent to a four-week closing low at 9,767.61, while the broader Topix .TOPX eased 0.3 percent to 832.57.
The Nikkei is still up more than 15 percent this year, buoyed by a run of strong U.S. economic data and liquidity boosting programs by central banks.
Nomura estimated that total shareholder returns, including dividends and share buybacks, at all listed Japanese companies rose to 8.3 trillion yen ($100.76 billion) in the last fiscal year from 7.6 trillion the year before, despite the impact of the massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
It forecast total shareholder returns would rise to 9 trillion yen in this fiscal year, "as companies still have substantial cash holdings and in our opinion are unlikely to make any major changes to the proactive stance towards shareholder returns that they displayed in FY11."
> S&P 500 posts worst week in 2012 as bulls waver .N > Euro hits multiweek lows, breaks 1.20 francs floor <FRX/> > Treasuries climbs as Europe fear spurs safety bid <US/> > Gold rises in thin trade but set for weekly loss <GOL/> > Oil rises as U.S. data, supply fears fuel rebound <O/R>
STOCKS TO WATCH
--SEVEN & I HOLDINGS CO LTD (3382.T)
Japan's top general retailer Seven & I on Thursday forecast a second straight year of record profit as the company targets a broader demographic to drive domestic convenience-store sales and seeks acquisitions in the United States.
--ASTELLAS PHARMA INC (4503.T)
U.S. advisers backed a bladder drug from Astellas Pharma on Thursday, boosting the company's hopes of gaining approval for a second treatment for overactive bladder.
--TOSHIBA CORP (6502.T)
Toshiba has approached SK hynix (000660.KS) of South Korea about bidding jointly for Japanese memory chip maker Elpida Memory, an industry source said on Thursday, after its solo bid was reportedly less than that of U.S. firm Micron Technology (MU.O).
Japanese insurers may have to pay more than twice as much to reinsure themselves against earthquake claims as they did before last year's Tohoku quake, reinsurance broker Guy Carpenter said on Thursday.
--TOYOTA MOTOR CORP (7203.T)
Toyota will shift the development of models to the markets they are sold in, beginning with the United States, the Nikkei reported. [ID:nL3E8F5700] ($1 = 82.3700 Japanese yen)
(Reporting by Dominic Lau; Editing by Ed Davies)