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Nikkei eases as caution sets in before earnings; Nissan plunges

Ayai Tomisawa

* Nissan plunges 4 pct; cuts earnings outlook after market close

* Utility stocks fall on profit-taking

TOKYO, April 24 (Reuters) - Japan's Nikkei edged lower in choppy trade on Wednesday as investors stayed cautious before earnings results, but it remained around a 4-1/2-month high as sentiment was supported by a rally in U.S. stocks.

Nissan Motor Co tumbled 4 percent after TV Tokyo reported on late Tuesday that it would announce a large cut to its earnings outlook for the fiscal year that ended in March due to weak sales in North America and China.

After the market close, Nissan cut its earnings outlook and now expects a net profit of 390 billion yen, compared to previously forecast 410 billion yen.

The Nikkei share average ended 0.3 percent lower at 22,200.00, after opening higher.

In early trade, it hit as high as 22,362.92, the highest level since early December.

In U.S. markets, the S&P 500 index and the Nasdaq posted record closing highs after as a clutch of better-than-expected earnings reports eased concerns about a slowdown.

The broader Topix dropped 0.7 percent to 1,612.05, with trading volume slightly increased to 1.2 billion yen after falling below 1 billion shares in the past three days.

Activity for the rest of the week is expected to stay thin, with many investors on the sidelines before Japan's 10-day Golden Week holiday starting this weekend.

With a flurry of earnings reports due out on Friday, investors are not taking large positions, analysts said.

"The market is bracing for weak earnings forecasts. But as earnings prospects seemed to be priced in already, big turbulence is not expected in the market," said Nobuhiko Kuramochi, a strategist at Mizuho Securities.

Nidec Corp gained 0.8 percent after the electric motor maker expected a 21.8 percent rise in its net profit for the year ending March 2020.

Profit-taking hit the utility sector, which rose on Tuesday, with Tokyo Electric Power tumbling 4.1 percent and Osaka Gas shedding 2.7 percent. (Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)