April 3, 2020 / 3:01 AM / 4 months ago

Health care, oil firms buoy Japan stocks ahead of U.S. payrolls

TOKYO, April 3 (Reuters) - Japanese shares rose on Friday lifted by health care and energy firms, but investor refrained from aggressive bets ahead of U.S. unemployment data later in the day.

By 0155 GMT, the Nikkei index was up 0.75% at 17,957.59.

Investors sought shares of health care companies that are expected to make a profit as researchers race to find medicines to treat the global coronavirus epidemic.

Some oil producers and industrial firms also got a boost on hopes a truce among major oil producers will relieve some of the massive oversupply in the energy market.

Despite the gains on Friday, the Nikkei was still on course for a 7% weekly decline as fear about the economic costs of the coronavirus hurt global equity markets.

Investors are now looking to Friday’s U.S. non-farm payrolls report for March, which is expected to show the world’s largest economy lost 100,000 jobs as companies quickly jettisoned workers in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Draconian restrictions on personal movement aimed at curbing the spread of the flu-like virus are widely expected to throw the global economy into recession.

Infections in Japan have been rising recently, and some investors worry the government will declare a state of emergency, which would weigh on an already stuttering economy.

There were 146 advancers on the Nikkei index against 71 decliners on Friday.

The largest percentage gainers in the index were chemicals maker Denka Co Ltd up 20.13%, followed by medical products and devices maker Fujifilm Holdings Corp gaining 5.99%, and paper manufacturer Oji Holdings Corp up by 5.66%.

Fujifilm said on Friday a subsidiary of the company will release a new coronavirus testing kit on April 15 that can shorten the time to deliver results to around two hours.

Fujifilm has also begun clinical trials of its antiviral drug Avigan as a potential treatment of coronavirus symptoms. Denka Co will supply the raw chemicals used to make Avigan.

The largest percentage losses in the Nikkei index were auto maker Subaru Corp down 5.24%, followed by electronic components maker Taiyo Yuden Co Ltd losing 4.96% and rival component maker Alps Alpine Co Ltd falling by 4.93%.

U.S. data on Thursday showed initial claims for unemployment benefits rose to a record 6.65 million in the latest week from an unrevised 3.3 million the previous week.

Dismal manufacturing data from around the globe has dented sentiment this week.

With global coronavirus infections now crossing the 1 million mark, a return to business as usual in the near term seems unlikely, with economic activity likely to contract further. (Reporting by Stanley White; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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