Japan stocks erase gains as China virus fears offset tech earnings hopes

TOKYO, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Japanese shares gave up early gains on Friday to trade little changed as fears over a rising death toll from the new coronavirus in China outweighed hopes of an improvement in earnings of technology companies.

By 0159 GMT, the Nikkei index edged down 0.01% to 23,792.01, heading for a 1% weekly drop.

The markets started on a positive note as information technology and industrial equipment stocks rose following better-than-expected sales and profit forecasts from U.S. chipmaker Intel Corp.

But investors turned cautious after China said the death count rose to 25 from the coronavirus, with 830 confirmed cases as of Jan. 23 and as Chinese authorities placed two cities on lockdown to contain the virus.

Investors are worried the virus will continue to spread as millions of Chinese travel during the week-long Lunar New Year holiday starting on Friday.

Reports of more infections and deaths could dent travel and tourism spending, which could impact earnings of airline and consumer goods companies, while benefiting healthcare goods and drugmakers.

On the Nikkei index, 103 stocks advanced against 115 decliners.

The biggest percentage loser was the non-ferrous metal producer Toho Zinc Co Ltd, down 2.6%, followed by semiconductor testing equipment maker Advantest Corp and Isuzu Motors Ltd, which fell 2.48% and 2.42%, respectively.

The top gainer was the shipping company Yamato Holdings Co Ltd, up 2.66%, followed by shipbuilder Mitsui E&S Holdings Co Ltd, which gained 2.52% and Nissan Chemical Corp, up 2.17%.

The broader Topix index fell 0.2% to 1,726.71. For the week, the Topix fell 0.4%.

The volume of shares traded on the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s main board was 0.41 billion, compared with the average of 1.1 billion in the past 30 days. (Reporting by Stanley White; editing by Uttaresh.V)