Japan's Nikkei gains as oil declines, COVID cases drop

TOKYO, March 14 (Reuters) - Japan's Nikkei stock index advanced on Monday, supported by a retreat in crude oil as investors turned more optimistic over the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

Travel-related stocks jumped on a decline in COVID-19 infections and hopes of resumption of a government programme to boost tourism.

Financial shares rallied as higher long-term global bond yields improved the outlook for profits. Automakers stood out too, as a weaker yen boosted the value of overseas sales.

The Nikkei share average (.N225) ended the morning session 0.69% higher at 25,337.39, although that was off the early highs when the benchmark gained as much as 1.86%.

Of the Nikkei's 225 component stocks, 193 advanced. Real estate was the best performing sector, followed by financials and then consumer cyclicals. Only utilities, a traditional defensive sector, declined.

The broader Topix (.TOPX) climbed 0.92% to 1,816.03.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said on Sunday that Russia was showing signs it might be willing to have substantive negotiations over Ukraine, allowing commodity prices to fall back from their highs.

Resource-poor Japan is dependent on imports for its energy needs.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on the weekend the government was preparing to restart the "GoTo Travel" subsidy programme.

Travel agency H.I.S. (9603.T) jumped 7.04% and airline ANA Holdings (9202.T) rose 2.4%. Department store operator J.Front Retailing advanced 4.58%.

"Although the outlook remains unclear for Ukraine and other overseas factors, the decline in Omicron cases and the restart of "GoTo" is lifting sentiment by raising hopes for improved corporate profits in coming quarters," said Jun Kitazawa, an equity strategist at Miki Securities.

Toyota (7203.T) rallied 3.09% to be the Nikkei's biggest mover by index points. Nissan added 2.41% and Mazda (7261.T) leapt 4.34%.

Chipmaking giant Tokyo Electron (8035.T) was the next biggest contributor to the Nikkei's rise, adding 0.53%, followed by peer Advantest , which gained 1.72%.

Reporting by Tokyo markets team; Editing by Rashmi Aich

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