Tokyo shares lack direction, Fanuc weighs on Nikkei
* Bridgestone pulls up tyre companies on strong earnings
* Machine tool orders for China weigh on index
* Social gaming companies in the spotlight
TOKYO, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Japan's Nikkei share average edged down in morning trade on Tuesday as heavyweight Fanuc Corp weighed after weak machine tool orders data from China was issued, while investors were reluctant to move ahead of major events on the horizon. Investors await Abe's nomination of the new Bank of Japan governor, which will be announced after he returns from a trip to Washington, according to economics minister Akira Amari.
"Before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's U.S. visit and Italy's election this weekend, many investors have adopted a wait-and-see attitude," said Hiroichi Nishi, an assistant general manager at SMBC Nikko Securities. The Nikkei edged down 0.1 percent to 11,395.16 by the midday break, after jumping 2.1 percent on Monday to near a 4-year high struck on Feb. 6, when BOJ governor Masaaki Shirakawa said he would leave his post three weeks early. Market players say the appointment of the new governor will determine the direction of the stock market and the yen, since they expect Abe to choose a governor eager to implement more aggressive measures to end years of deflation and lift the world's third-biggest economy out of recession. Index heavyweight and industrial robotics maker Fanuc weighed on the benchmark after the Japan Machine Tool Builders' Association said machine tool orders to China had dropped 65 percent in January compared to the previous year. Fanuc lost 3.4 percent, taking 21 points off the benchmark. The broader Topix edged up 0.3 percent to 965.61 as a softer yen continued to support exporters and stellar profits for tyre maker Bridgestone Corp helped the rubber products sub-index jump 7.1 percent as the best-performing sector. Bridgestone soared 9.2 percent to hit its highest in more than five years after the tyre maker announced a 50 percent increase in its operating profit for the year ended Dec. 31, and overshot analysts' estimates with its current year profit forecast. The stock was the second-most-traded on the main board.
WHERE NOW FOR THE YEN? Concerns about the euro zone's economic outlook were exacerbated after European Central Bank president Mario Draghi said on Monday the euro's appreciation added downside risks to price stability. Japanese exporters have benefited from the yen's 20 percent fall against the common currency since November, when Shinzo Abe, then a candidate for the opposition leader and now prime minister, began calling for a weaker yen. The yen dipped a little further against the dollar at the weekend after Abe's economic policies escaped direct criticism at a meeting of G20 policymakers in Moscow at the weekend, which investors took as a green light for Japan to continue with its aggressive monetary easing. However, some analysts questioned whether the currency will continue to slide at the same speed as it has over the last 2-1/2 months. "The yen has paused today, and its direction from here on has become a little less unclear, particularly if the U.S. begins to complain about the falling competitiveness of its auto industry," said Fumiyuki Nakanishi, general manager of investment and research at SMBC Friend Securities. "But it's unlikely to return to 80 yen against the dollar and even if it firms I expect exporters will be supported by dip-buying." With automakers taking a breather after seeing robust gains on Monday, social gaming network providers Gree Inc and DeNA Co Ltd were in the spotlight. Gree jumped 5.3 percent after the social gaming network provider said it would buy back 1 percent of its shares, spending up to 3 billion yen, ($32 million) while DeNA was the third-most-traded share on the main board, losing 2.2 percent.