June 17, 2020 / 3:27 AM / 17 days ago

Nikkei eases on auto export slump, geopolitical tensions

TOKYO, June 17 (Reuters) - Japanese shares fell on Wednesday as automakers dragged on weak export data, while escalating tensions between North Korea and South Korea also doused the market sentiment.

The benchmark Nikkei average fell 0.74% to 22,414.50 by the midday break, while the broader Topix lost 0.50% to 1,585.51. The index had posted its biggest intraday percentage gain in three months in the previous session.

Japan’s exports shrank to the lowest levels in a decade as shipments of automobile to the United States slumped. This offset optimism around an overnight rally on Wall Street, where all three major U.S. stocks hitting third consecutive daily gains.

Shares of export-oriented automakers underperformed, with Mazda Motor dropping 4.73%, Hino Motors down 4.39% and Isuzu Motors falling 4.11%.

Investors were also rattled by escalating tensions between North Korea and South Korea after North Korea demolished an inter-Korean liaison office and rejected an offer by South Korea to send special envoys, vowing to send troops back to the border.

On the Nikkei index, there were 28 advancers against 192 decliners.

As concerns about the coronavirus progress resurfaced, highly cyclical airlines went down 2.19% and iron and steel dropped 1.83%.

Bucking the overall market’s weakness, SoftBank Group advanced 3.93% after the Wall Street Journal reported that the Japanese technology company plans to sell “a significant portion” of its stake in T-Mobile to controlling shareholder Deutsche Telekom AG.

Nichi-Iko Pharmaceutical Co Ltd, a generic pharmaceutical manufacturer that sells dexamethasone, gained 3.91% after a preliminary trial results in the United Kingdom showed that this steroid drug reduced death rates by around a third among the most severely ill COVID-19 patients.

In the startup market, the Mothers Index climbed 2.14%. (Reporting by Eimi Yamamitsu; Editing by Rashmi Aich)

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