Japanese shares close at nine-month high

Japanese shares closed at a nine-month high on Monday, gaining 0.46 percent on a weaker yen, upbeat earnings and signs of more industry realignment in the wake of a proposed steel mega-merger.

The headline Nikkei index added 48.52 points to 10,592.04 at the Tokyo Stock Exchange, the highest level since May.

The Topix index of all first section shares gained 0.54 percent or 5.07 points to 940.43.

“Expectations for realignment in various industries are leading to foreign investor buying of Japanese shares,” Okasan Securities strategist Hideyuki Ishiguro told Dow Jones Newswires.

He cited reports that beer-maker Sapporo Holdings plans to buy a controlling stake in soft-drink maker Pokka Corp, following last week’s news of a merger plan between Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Industries.

Nippon Steel and third-ranked Sumitomo Metal announced Thursday that they plan to achieve the tie-up by 2012, which would create steel giant second only to ArcelorMittal, based in Luxembourg.

Analysts said the Nikkei index also rose on a weaker yen following mixed US jobs data.

The dollar was slightly higher at 82.24 yen, compared with 82.21 yen in New York on Friday, and up from 81.55 yen in Tokyo.

The euro bought $1.3614 from $1.3583 in New York and rose to 111.93 yen from 111.64.

But Masayoshi Okamoto, head of dealing at Jujiya Securities, told Dow Jones Newswires: “With few macroeconomic figures coming out and with conditions in the Middle East uncertain, the Nikkei may be nearing a (short-term) peak.”

US government jobs data Friday said that a low 36,000 non-farm jobs were created in January, far fewer than the 148,000 that had been expected.

Meanwhile the government also reported that the unemployment rate fell to 9.0 percent from 9.4 percent.

Normally such a sizeable decline would spur great optimism over the US economic recovery — the rate has been above nine percent for 22 months.

But the data was skewed by government recalculations on population and the impact of huge snowstorms during the reporting period, dealers said.

Sapporo Holdings eased 0.53 percent to 375 yen, but Nikon was up 2.04 percent to 1,998 and Olympus 1.02 percent higher at 2,458 on a weaker yen.

Inpex was up 0.74 percent at 542,000 after lifting its full-year profit outlook after the close Friday.