A pedestrian walks past a stock indicator board displaying share prices of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo on January 7, 2019. – Tokyo stocks closed up more than two percent on January 7, 2019, after European and US markets roared last week on strong US data and dovish comments from the US Federal Reserve. (Photo by Behrouz MEHRI / AFP)
Agence France-Presse

Tokyo stocks closed lower Thursday, weighed down by a firming yen, but banking shares gained to provide some support for the overall market.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 index dropped 0.20 percent, or 40.48 points, to 20,402.27 while the broader Topix index rose 0.35 percent, or 5.43 points, to 1,543.20.

A reported US criminal probe into Chinese tech giant Huawei was also seen weighing on the market, along with general profit taking, analysts said.

The Nikkei began the day in positive territory, following healthy gains made on Wall Street.

But trade on the Japanese index slowed as the yen gradually crawled up — although the currency stayed within a narrow band — and investors searched for fresh news.

A stronger yen hurts exporters and often drives down the Tokyo market.

The dollar stood at 108.92 yen, compared with slightly lower than 109.05 yen in New York.

Investors closely monitored escalating tension between Washington and Beijing, particularly after a fresh news report said the US Department of Justice was in the “advanced” stages of a criminal probe that could result in an indictment of Huawei.

“The report about the criminal probe into Huawei puts heavy weight on the market, which is already concerned about… US-China relations,” financial firm Resona Holdings said in a note to clients.

“But we believe it would have only limited impact on the US-China trade negotiations.”

Resona also warned of further downside risk for stocks if more US data disappoints investors.

Concerns over the possibility of fresh American tariffs on automobiles also drove down the market, SMBC Nikko Securities said in a note.

However, Tokyo financial shares managed to rise, following banking gains on Wall Street, the brokerage said.

Okasan added that investors continued to look for new trading cues and put the market within a narrow range.

Among major losers, Fast Retailing, which operates the Uniqlo brand, ended down 2.42 percent at 50,840 yen.

Takeda Pharmaceutical lost 0.93 percent to 4,281 yen.

But Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group added 0.81 percent to 570.5 yen, and Mizuho Financial Group rose 0.17 percent to 175.3 yen.

Tech investor SoftBank Group added 0.92 percent to 7,770 yen. Nintendo jumped 3.79 percent to 33,150 yen.

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