Japanese shares edge down as rising COVID-19 cases cast doubt on economic rebound

TOKYO, April 14 (Reuters) - Japanese shares edged lower on Wednesday, dragged down by materials stocks, as mounting new COVID-19 cases have cast doubt over an economic rebound, while concerns over falling rates pushed shares of banks and insurers lower.

The Nikkei share average inched down 0.28% to 29,668.74 by 0202 GMT, while the broader Topix slipped 0.23% to 1,953.80.

“The expectations for the reopening of the economy shrank because rollouts of vaccines in Japan is much slower than other countries, while the number of new COVID-19 cases is on the rise,” said Shoichi Arisawa, general manager of the investment research department at IwaiCosmo Securities.

“The interest rates could fall if the economy slows down. That has sent bank and insurer shares lower today.”

Japan’s western region of Osaka on Tuesday reported a record 1,099 new cases of coronavirus infections as a highly contagious variant is driving a fourth wave.

The market sentiment was also hit by the overnight fall in the Dow Jones Industrial Average amid the news on a pause in Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Textiles and papers led declines on the main bourse, with clothing materials maker Toray Industries falling 3.71%, making it the biggest loser on the Nikkei.

Insurers fell, with Dai-ichi Life Holdings down 2.1%, T&D Holdings losing 3.53% and Sompo Holdings 0.8%.

Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group fell 0.75% and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group lost 0.88.

Toshiba surged 6.86% amid reports of more plans of bids for the conglomerate and expectations that its embattled chief executive would soon resign.

There were 57 advancers on the Nikkei index against 165 decliners. (Reporting by Junko Fujita; Editing by Shailesh Kuber)