March 19, 2020 / 4:10 AM / 18 days ago

Nikkei sags as virus panic overshadows ECB stimulus

March 19 (Reuters) - Japan’s share benchmark Nikkei sagged on Thursday, reversing earlier gains as the European Central Bank’s latest promise of stimulus only briefly comforted investors worried about the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Nikkei average slipped 0.7% to 16,602.26 by midday, not far from Tuesday’s 3-1/2-year low of 16,378.94. Earlier in the session, the index rose as much as 2.6%.

The Nikkei’s volatility index, a measure of investors’ volatility expectations based on option pricing and considered to be a fear gauge, rose 1.1% to 56.74, off Monday’s nine-year peak of 60.86.

It seems like some global investors have been rushing to liquidate their holdings in fear of potential market closures due to the virus crisis, traders said.

The Nikkei’s heavyweight SoftBank Group Corp tumbled 10.3% on growing uncertainty over its management of a portfolio of unproven startups.

The tech conglomerate’s shares lost 10.9% on Wednesday to take its market cap below that of mobile phone unit SoftBank Corp for the first time.

The broader Topix continued to outperform the Nikkei to finish the morning session up 1.5% at 1,289.46.

But it too gave up gains from earlier in the session when it rose more than 3% after the ECB unveiled its 750 billion euro asset-purchase programme.

The markets, however, continue to draw support from hopes the Bank of Japan will buy Exchanged Traded Funds more aggressively, analysts said.

About three-fourth of the 33 sector sub-indexes on the Tokyo Stock Exchange traded higher, with land transport, air transport and pharmaceutical being the top three performing sectors.

Unizo Holdings soared 12% as the hotel chain said top shareholders Elliott Management and Ichigo Asset Management have agreed to tender their shares to Lone Star after the U.S. fund raised its bid to 6,000 yen per share.

The dollar rose versus the yen and was last at 109.28 yen , a three-week high, also providing a tailwind for the broader market. A weaker yen boosts corporate profits when they are repatriated.

However, Fujifilm Holdings Corp shed 8.9% after it said it expects no direct earnings impact from potential sales growth of Favipiravir in China for now as its license for the key ingredient in the country already expired last year.

On Wednesday, Fujifilm’s shares surged by a daily limit of 15.4% after a Chinese official said an active ingredient of the company’s Avigan anti-flu drug appeared to help coronavirus patients recover. (Reporting by Tomo Uetake; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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