Japanese stocks rose on Wednesday morning as the dollar jumped after U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen hinted at an interest rate hike next month, with financial stocks outperforming on higher yields. The weak yen lifted exporters too and took the sting off a bruising slide in shares of Toshiba Corp after it booked a massive writedown. The Nikkei gained 1.2 percent to 19,459.62 in midmorning trade. Yellen told the U.S. Senate Banking Committee the central bank will likely need to raise interest rates at one of its upcoming meetings.
“The market takes heart from Yellen’s comment and such positive sentiment will likely last throughout the day,” said Takuya Takahashi, a strategist at Daiwa Securities. Higher U.S. Treasury yields attracted buying in insurers and banks, whose sectors rose 5.1 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively. Dai-ichi Life Holdings jumped 5.1 percent, MS&AD Insurance surged 5.5 percent and Sompo Holdings soared 4.6 percent.
Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group rose 2.5 percent and Mizuho Financial Group rose 1.6 percent. Exporters also rallied, with Panasonic Corp rising 2.7 percent, Hitachi Ltd adding 1.8 percent and Honda Motor Co gaining 1.3 percent. The dollar was at 114.28 yen, not far from the two-week peak of 114.49 yen touched on Tuesday.
Toshiba tumbled more than 10 percent after the conglomerate said it would book a $6.3 billion hit to its U.S. nuclear unit and may sell more of its prized flash-memory chip business than planned to urgently raise funds. Corporate activity was also a focus in the market, with SoftBank Group Corp agreeing to buy Fortress Investment Group LLC, a private-equity firm and asset manager, for about $3.3 billion in cash – a surprise move for a group that has to date focused on telecoms and technology. SoftBank shares were up 0.8 percent. The broader Topix added 1.1 percent to 1,555.84 and the JPX-Nikkei Index 400 advanced 1.2 percent to 13,962.83.