Tokyo stocks finish higher on hopes for oral medication of COVID-19

Tokyo stocks finished higher on Friday after the U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. applied to the Japanese health ministry for permission to produce and sell its COVID-19 oral treatment drug, which lifted the low market sentiment caused by the Omicron variant fears.

The 225-issue Nikkei Stock Average finished 276.20 points, or 1.00 percent, higher from Thursday at 28,029.57.

The broader Topix index of all First Section issues on the Tokyo Stock Exchange closed 31.49 points, or 1.63 percent, higher at 1,957.86.

Trading volume on the main section decreased to 1,233.33 million shares from Thursday’s 1,348.49 million shares.

Tokyo stocks opened higher in the morning and extended gains in the afternoon following the application by Merck. Starting from last Friday, the Nikkei index has declined nearly 6 percent in the past five trading days over worries that the Omicron variant will disrupt global economic activities.

The Japanese government has already agreed with Merck on the procurement of 1.6 million doses of molnupiravir, an orally administered drug that prevents the virus from entering or multiplying in the body.

Norihiro Fujito, a senior investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co., said that “Shares that had plunged recently such as airlines and railway operators were temporarily bought back, tracking a similar bargain-hunting on Wall Street overnight,” adding “but considering the high possibility of the Omicron variant spreading further, a sustainable recovery in such issues should not be expected.”

By the close of play, air transportation, marine transportation, and land transportation sectors headed the increase. Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones 2,015 to 138, while 31 finished unchanged.

The brokers said that due to selling on some major companies, the Nikkei index performed weaker than the Topix index, which contains more constituent stocks.

Among such heavyweights, SoftBank Group ended down 0.7 percent after Grab Holdings Inc., a firm it invested in, fell sharply on the U.S. Nasdaq overnight.

Fast Retailing, the operator of the Uniqlo casual clothing chain, also finished 0.7 percent lower after it said on Thursday that its domestic sales for November fell year-on-year amid sluggish demand for winter clothing due to warm weather.

Some firms related to earthquake-resistant measures rose after a magnitude-5.4 earthquake hit the western Japan prefecture of Wakayama near Osaka during morning trading, and a magnitude-4.8 earthquake struck Yamanashi Prefecture near Mt. Fuji before the market opened.

Soil improvement work company Fudo Tetra jumped 5.1 percent, while Pasco, a major aerial survey firm that also provides construction-related consulting services, advanced 4.5 percent.

Transportation issues rebounded strongly, with Japan Airlines surging 5.5 percent, Central Japan Railway gaining 3.5 percent, and Nippon Yusen rising 2.1 percent.