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Nikkei 225 index surges almost 23% in '12

TOKYO -- Tokyo shares on Friday finished at their highest point since last year's quake-tsunami, ending 2012 up almost 23 percent as Japan's new government pledges to turn around the long-suffering economy.

The Nikkei ended the last trading day of the year up 0.70 percent, or 72.20 points, closing at 10,395.18, its best finish since the March 11 disaster.

And the 22.9 percent rise over the past 12 months was the strongest annual return for the Nikkei since 2005, but the closely followed index remains a shadow of its former self.

The Nikkei peaked at almost 39,000 in the last days of 1989 before Japan's asset bubble popped, dealing a huge blow to the economy and sending the index plunging over the next two decades.

It lost about 17 percent last year when Japan was hammered by the twin natural disasters and subsequent nuclear crisis at Fukushima, the worst atomic accident in a generation.

Overseas investors have been piling into the Tokyo market on the back of hopes that the new conservative Japanese government headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will make good on his promises to revive Japan's limp economy.

Investors bid up Japanese stocks because the market was undervalued, said Seiichi Suzuki, a strategist at Tokai Tokyo Securities.

“This momentum will continue next year,” Suzuki said.

“It's not only because of the 'Abe effect.' Foreign investors will buy more Japanese shares, and that will force Japanese investors to buy more too.”

On Friday, Tokyo's broader Topix index of all first-section shares climbed 0.67 percent, or 5.71 points, to 859.80, to finish the year up 18 percent.

The Tokyo market's rise was particularly stark in the last few months as the yen, which hit record highs around 75 against the dollar in late 2011, began a descent stoked partly by speculation of further easing by the Bank of Japan.

Abe, whose Liberal Democratic Party won landslide national elections this month, said he would launch big spending measures and pressure the central bank into more aggressive easing measures to boost the world's third-largest economy.

On currency markets Friday, the dollar fetched 86.43 yen after spiking at 86.63 yen — its highest level since August 2010 — while the euro touched a 17-month high against the Japanese currency.

The yen had been viewed as a safe bet at times of global economic uncertainty, with turmoil in Europe and an unsteady U.S. recovery.

But a dose of cautious eurozone optimism and some encouraging U.S. data has helped send some traders back to riskier currencies, weighing on the yen and in turn boosting exporters' shares.

Producers, already battling fierce overseas competition and a global slowdown, suffered as the strong currency made their products pricier overseas while shrinking the value of repatriated income.

It did, however, make foreign acquisitions relatively cheaper with Japanese firms going on a big shopping spree this year, scooping up about US$110 billion worth of overseas assets, according to data provider Dealogic.

Markets on Friday largely shrugged off figures showing Japan's factory output in November fell by a worse-than-expected 1.7 percent from the previous month.

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