* Profit-taking pulls Nikkei from highs but sentiment strong
* Banking, property shares higher on foreign buying
* Trading volume hits one-month high as foreigners pile in
* Early rise to 8-mth high spurred by US earnings, weaker yen
By Antoni Slodkowski and Ayai Tomisawa
TOKYO, Jan 12 (Reuters) - The Nikkei average ended flat on Wednesday, backing away from an eight-month high hit early as traders locked in profits, but sentiment remains strong as upbeat U.S. earnings and a softer yen spurred foreign investors to buy up financial and property shares.
Earnings reports from U.S. companies including homebuilder Lennar (LEN.N) and store chain Sears Holdings SHLD.O beat expectations, bolstering hopes that the world's No.1 economy is on a sustainable recovery path.
The Nikkei .N225, while sharply underperforming other major indexes in 2010, has added 15 percent since the start of November, with foreign investors net buyers of Tokyo stocks in the week to Jan. 1 for a ninth straight week.
"Investors took profits on early morning gains, as the market started very strongly because more foreign investors began piling in," said Mitsuo Shimizu, deputy general manager at Cosmo Securities.
"But sentiment is very strong as foreign investors buy back undervalued domestic demand-related stocks," he added.
The benchmark Nikkei .N225 ended the most active trading day of the new year up 0.02 percent or 2.12 points at 10,512.80, after rising early in the session to 10,576.51, its highest intraday level since May 13, 2010.
The broader Topix .TOPX added 0.3 percent to 929.64.
In comparison to the Nikkei's 15 percent gain since November, the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI has added 5 percent and the FTSE .FTEU3 has risen 5.6 percent.
Around 2.5 billion shares changed hands on the Tokyo Stock Exchange's first section, the highest since Dec. 10 and well above last week's average daily volume of 2.0 billion shares.
"High volume is something to focus on today. It means that long-term foreign investors, such as European pension funds, have come back to the market," said Shoji Yoshigoe, senior investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co Ltd.
"If volume keeps around these levels for a little longer, more domestic players, including retail investors, may come back to the market, pushing it even higher."
BANKS LEAD ADVANCE
Banks and property shares led the advance, as foreign funds continued adding underweight financial stocks to their portfolios and property shares were in favour due to the Bank of Japan's asset buying scheme.
Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (8306.T), Japan's biggest bank by assets, gained 3.6 percent, while Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group (8316.T) added 2.7 percent and Mizuho Financial Group (8411.T) rose 3.1 percent.
"Now that Resona's share issuance is out and the impact has been priced in, investors are buying back heavily shorted banking shares," said a trader who asked not to be quoted by name.
Resona Holdings (8308.T) said on Friday it would go ahead with a share offering to raise about $8 billion, taking advantage of the recently buoyant stock market to make progress on its repayment of government bailout funds.
The top three lenders were the most actively traded equities by turnover on the Tokyo bourse's first section.
The sector, which has gained 23 percent since November, is still considered undervalued as its price-to-book ratio stands at around 0.7, underperforming the average PBR of 1.2 for the Nikkei 225 components. A share is seen as undervalued if the PBR is below 1.0.
"Expectations that futures prices will rise are strong as some foreign securities firms have built up call options at 11,000," said Hiroaki Kuramochi, chief equity marketing officer at Tokai Tokyo Securities, adding that a slightly weaker yen against the euro was also calming investors.
The yen's easing against both the dollar and the euro helped exporters outperform, with Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) gaining 1.3 percent to 3,500 yen and Honda Motor Corp (7267.T) rising 1.4 percent to 3,310 yen.
Declining issues outpaced advancers by 911 to 595. (Editing by Edmund Klamann)