* Nikkei’s gains merely due to short-covering -analyst
* Nikkei may fall below 9,000 in mid-May -fund manager
* Toshiba jumps on report Apple to invest in its panels
By Antoni Slodkowski and Ayai Tomisawa
TOKYO, April 20 (Reuters) - Tokyo stocks snapped a three-day losing streak on Wednesday after Intel’s earnings guidance sparked short-covering in chip-related stocks, but trade is expected to stay thin ahead of forecasts from Japanese firms.
Market sentiment was also bolstered by Johnson & Johnson , which raised its profit outlook and was one of the first major names to rally following results this season, while commodities-related issues gained on higher gold and oil prices.
This helped the Nikkei end above the 9,600 line, on both sides of which it has traded in a 350-point range after recovering from a sell-off sparked by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis.
But the benchmark’s moves were mostly futures-led and volumes remained depressed as investors were reluctant to make big bets while waiting for camera maker Canon Inc and construction machinery maker Komatsu Ltd to kick off the first post-quake corporate earnings season next week.
“ The market is rebounding, but it’s nothing more than short-covering. Investors will not go long until they see Japanese corporate earnings later this month,” said Kenichi Hirano, a strategist at Tachibana Securities.
The benchmark Nikkei average closed up 1.8 percent, or 165.79 points, at 9,606.82 on Wednesday. The Nikkei broke above its 25-day moving average at 9,537.83, which now becomes its immediate support.
The broader Topix gained 1.2 percent to 837.17.
Tokyo stocks have lost 8 percent since the disaster, with chip and auto makers among big underperfomers on worries over the quake’s impact on global supply chains and factory output. By comparison, Asian stocks outside Japan have risen 8 percent over the same period.
Trading volume remained thin, with 1.8 billion shares changing hands on the Tokyo exchange’s main board, below last week’s average of 2.1 billion shares.
CHIP STOCKS BOUNCE BACK, TOSHIBA JUMPS
Hit by a weak outlook from Texas Instruments on Tuesday, Japanese chip-related stocks bounced back after the world’s biggest chipmaker, Intel Corp , forecast quarterly revenues well above Wall Street’s estimates, saying Japan’s disaster was not affecting production and the global PC supply chain was able to meet demand.
Up to 10 percent of Intel’s revenue comes from manufacturers in Japan.
Advantest gained 3.4 percent to 1,452 yen, Ibiden surged 6 percent to 2,562 yen and Tokyo Electron added 4.1 percent to 4,475 yen.
After the sell-off Japanese IT shares look attractive on valuations, traders said, with the price-to-book ratio for the sector at 1.3, compared with 2.1 for Taiwan and 3.4 for the United States, according to Thomson Reuters Starmine.
But some fund managers were sceptical about the outlook for tech shares and the broader market.
“I have doubts if there really is no impact on (Intel’s) production after the quake. And even if there isn’t, global demand for PCs is on the decline with tablets becoming increasingly popular, so I wouldn’t go overweight on chipmakers,” said Makoto Kikuchi, chief executive officer of Myojo Asset Management.
Revenue from cellphone maker Sony Ericsson (ERICb.ST) missed forecasts on Tuesday because of difficulties with displays, batteries and other parts due to the March 11 quake, adding the problem was stabilising but would definitely have a bigger impact in the second quarter.[ID:nLDE73I082]
“Companies will likely be late this year with their outlooks, but once they publish them, probably around mid-May, I expect brokerages to come out with very negative mid-term forecasts for the market and we can see the Nikkei go below 9,000 temporarily,” said Kikuchi.
Commodity shares were higher, with gold futures hitting an all-time high above $1,500 an ounce and U.S. oil prices rising on a weaker dollar.
Sumitomo Metal Mining gained 2.5 percent to 1,418 yen and Inpex Corp added 3.1 percent to 601,000 yen.
Toshiba Corp jumped 3.7 percent to 416 yen after the Nikkan Kogyo newspaper reported that Apple Inc has chosen Toshiba over Sharp as the U.S. company’s investment destination for development of liquid crystal displays for smartphones. Sharp denied the report.
Advancing shares outpaced decliners by 1,034 to 493. (Editing by Chris Gallagher)