April 30, 2020 / 7:16 AM / a month ago

Tokyo shares end near 8-week high, track Wall Street gains on virus drug hopes

SYDNEY, April 30 (Reuters) - Japanese stocks scaled a near eight-week closing high on Thursday, tracking Wall Street's overnight rally on promising early trial results of an experimental COVID-19 treatment, as well as on solid tech earnings and a surge in oil prices.

The benchmark Nikkei average advanced 2.6% to 20,193.69, its highest closing level since March 9, with trading volume on the main board hitting a one-month peak of 3.06 trillion yen ($28.8 billion).

The Nikkei volatility index, considered a fear gauge based on option pricing, dropped as much as 11.9% to an eight-week low of 29.4, reflecting a decline in investor anxiety.

The broader Topix gained 1.0% to 1,464.03, also its highest close since March 6, with more than two-thirds of the 33 sector sub-indexes on the Tokyo exchange finishing higher.

Highly cyclical mining, iron and steel and securities were the top three performing sector subindexes on the main bourse.

U.S. stocks surged on Wednesday on hopes for a COVID-19 treatment as the top U.S. infectious disease official said a government study found that Gilead Sciences' antiviral, remdesivir, had a clear effect in cutting the time patients need to recover.

Big tech companies provided the biggest lift to the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq, up 2.7% and 3.6% respectively, and pushed all three major Wall Street indexes closer to their all-time highs reached in February.

As some countries have started easing their coronavirus lockdown and moving toward reopening economies, domestic media reported the Japanese government is planning to extend the state of emergency by about a month for the entire country.

The news weighed on the country's top theme park operator Oriental Land Co Ltd, which has already announced temporary closure of Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea at least until mid-May. Oriental Land dropped 4.2%, partly due to disappointing earnings results for the year ended in March.

Tokyo-listed oil and gas companies Inpex Corp jumped 5.1% and Japan Petroleum Exploration Co Ltd climbed 2.3%, as oil prices surged more than 10% on Thursday after U.S. crude stockpiles grew less than expected.

The Nikkei's heavyweight SoftBank Group Corp added 0.5% after the tech conglomerate predicted a loss of around 700 billion yen for the year to March 2021 on the portion of its WeWork investment held outside the Vision Fund, extending the group's expected net loss to 900 billion yen.

Yamazaki Baking Co Ltd dived 16.3% after the company's operating profit for the January-March quarter missed analyst estimates, as the demand for sweet buns was hurt by the work-from-home trend due to the coronavirus outbreak.

NTT Docomo Inc shed 4.5% after the mobile operator reported a 10.9% decline in net profit for the year ended in March, also hit by the stay-at-home trend due to the epidemic. ($1 = 106.4500 yen) (Reporting by Tomo Uetake; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Rashmi Aich)

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