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Nikkei ends lower on virus worries, but posts weekly gain

TOKYO, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Japan’s Nikkei share average ended lower on Friday on concerns over the risks that surging COVID-19 cases in Tokyo could pose to recovery prospects in the world’s third-largest economy, but the index posted a weekly gain.

The benchmark Nikkei share average lost 0.16% to 26,763.39, while the broader Topix was nearly flat at 1,793.24.

The Nikkei and Topix posted weekly gains of 0.41% and 0.63%, respectively.

Stocks moved in narrow ranges in the afternoon as investors awaited the Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s press conference later in the day.

The Japanese capital Tokyo raised its COVID-19 alert level to the highest of four stages on Thursday as the number of new cases spiked to a record daily high of 822.

The market was also wary of a stronger yen against the dollar, which last sat at 103.41 yen after falling as far as 102.88 yen overnight.

But market losses were capped by a strong Wall Street performance overnight, said Masahiro Ichikawa, chief market strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui DS Asset Management.

All three major U.S. stock indexes closed at record highs on Thursday on growing optimism about a coronavirus stimulus bill.

Among sectoral gainers, nonferrous metals rose 1.11%, boosted by investor expectations of rising demand for electric-vehicle batteries.

Sony Corp ended 2.3% higher, after hitting its highest since October 2000 on stay-at-home demand.

Among individual decliners, Toyota Motor fell 1.11% as investors booked profits after it rallied to the highest level since August 2015 in the previous session.

The market showed limited reaction to the Bank of Japan’s widely expected decision to extend its package of steps aimed at easing corporate funding strains due to COVID-19.

The Mothers Index of start-up firm shares rose 0.1%, hitting its highest level in 1-1/2 week earlier in the session. (Reporting by Eimi Yamamitsu and Tokyo markets team; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu and Aditya Soni)

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