TOKYO, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Japan's Nikkei index rallied to its highest level in more than a year on Thursday, as investors bought back recently beaten down semiconductor-related shares on optimism for improved corporate earnings.
The Nikkei benchmark share average ended up 0.55% at 22,750.60. It earlier rose to 22,780.99, the highest since Oct. 18, 2018. So far it is up 13% for the year.
Shares rose for the fourth consecutive trading session as investors who recently sold off Japanese technology stocks turned into bargain hunters following Microsoft Corp's higher-than-expected sales forecasts for its cloud computing services.
A slightly weaker yen, which tends to boost earnings repatriated from overseas, also supported share prices of Japan's major exporters.
"We're in the age of big data and artificial intelligence, and both require semiconductors," said Kiyoshi Ishigane, chief fund manager at Mitsubishi UFJ Kokusai Asset Management Co in Tokyo.
"I don't see how you can argue that future demand for semiconductors will weaken. Japanese stocks can gain another 10% to 20% from current levels."
There were 166 advancers on the Nikkei index against 51 decliners on Thursday.
The information and technology sector was the biggest gainer, rising 0.25%. Chip-making equipment manufacturer Tokyo Electron Ltd rose 2.18%, while electronic devices maker Kyocera Corp gained 1.13%.
The largest percentage gainers in the index were pharmaceutical company Eisai Co Ltd up 15.3%, followed by parcel delivery firm Yamato Holdings Co Ltd gaining 4.06%, and Hino Motors Ltd up by 3.75%.
Eisai's shares have gained rapidly since it agreed with its U.S. partner Biogen Inc on Tuesday to revive plans to seek U.S. approval for an Alzheimer's treatment.
The largest percentage losses in the index were materials maker Toray Industries Inc down 4.35%, followed by SoftBank Group Corp losing 2.94%, and property developer Tokyu Fudosan Holdings Corp down by 2.59%.
Softbank's shares hit their lowest since Jan. 30 on Thursday on continued worries that its finances will weaken due to its bailout of office-space sharing startup WeWork.
The broader Topix index rose 0.34% to 1,643.74.
The volume of shares traded on the Tokyo Stock Exchange's main board was 1.2 billion, compared with the average of 1.24 billion in the past 30 days. (Editing by Jacqueline Wong & Shri Navaratnam)