Japan's Nikkei average edged above 10,000 to an eight-month high on Thursday before paring gains, with worries about rising U.S. interest rates offsetting an increase in steel shares on a brokerage upgrade.
Nippon Steel Corp (5401.T) shot up nearly 6 percent after Morgan Stanley lifted its rating on the sector to "attractive" from "in-line," saying it was time to shift to an aggressive investment stance as uncertainties surrounding the sector have started to resolve.
But market analysts said rising U.S. interest rates weighed on investors confidence, limiting further gains, as they could put a damper on consumer and business spending.
On Thursday, Japanese government bond prices fell, with the 10-year yield rising to its highest level since late October.
The benchmark U.S. Treasury yield climbed to an eight-month high the previous day, sending Wall Street lower as higher yields act as a benchmark for many lending rates. [US/] [.N]
"Generally speaking, the upward trend in the stock market is continuing as economic stimulus measures taken by governments around the world are still having an impact," said Takashi Kamiya, chief economist at T&D Asset Management.
"But rising U.S. rates pose a huge concern to the stock market. Higher interest rates will dampen an economic recovery and they would make bonds more attractive to investors, compared to stocks."
The benchmark Nikkei .N225 was flat at 9,991.05, after rising as high as 10,022.23 in morning trade, its highest since October 7 and a rise of roughly 43 percent from its March bear market low.
The broader Topix inched up 0.3 percent to 939.63.
As of Wednesday's close, the Dow Jones industrial average .DJI had risen some 35 percent and the S&P 500 .SPX some 41 percent from their March lows.
The Nikkei this week climbed above its 52-week moving average, which now comes in around 9,800, but analysts say it needs to break above 10,500 to enter a bull market.
The 10,500-10,800 range has provided strong support and resistance in the past, most notably in late 2003 to 2004, and is also significant because 10,800 is a 50 percent retracement from last year's closing high of 14,489 to the March closing trough of 7,054.
Data showed Japan's economy contracted a revised 3.8 percent in the first three months of this year, better than economists' median forecast, though the market largely shrugged this off. [ID:nT193265]
The mood on the streets of Tokyo remained bleak, despite the Nikkei's brief rise above 10,000.
Yukari Tani, a 32-year-old cosmetics sales clerk, who was in Tokyo for business, shrugged off the Nikkei's spike.
"There's nothing around me that makes me feel the economy is turning around," Tani said.
"A lot of my friends are switching jobs lately and I heard many of their companies were offering early retirement."
STEEL SOLID, BUT PROFIT-TAKING WEIGHS
Steel stocks held onto gains made after Morgan Stanley lifted its rating on the sector. The brokerage also raised its rating on Nippon Steel to "overweight" from "equal-weight" and hiked the company's target price to 480 yen from 270 yen.
Nippon Steel jumped 5.7 percent to 393 yen, while JFE Holdings Inc (5411.T) climbed 3.7 percent to 3,350 yen and Kobe Steel Ltd (5406.T) advanced 4.9 percent to 193 yen.
Olympus Corp (7733.T) soared 12.7 percent to 2,355 yen after Deutsche Securities doubled its target price for the maker of digital cameras and medical devices to 3,230 yen on cost cuts and brisk endoscope sales.
Shares of electronics group Toshiba (6502.T) shot up 6.2 percent to 377 yen after Nomura Securities lifted its rating on the stock to "buy" from "neutral," and raised its target price to 560 yen from 320 yen.
Nomura said that investor focus on the company will likely shift to its global growth potential.
But selling among a broad swathe of shares, including index heavyweights such as Honda Motor Corp (7267.T) and other exporters, weighed on the Nikkei average as profit-taking emerged after recent gains and amid worries about U.S. interest rates.
Honda lost 1.4 percent to 2,845 yen, while TDK Corp (6762.T) fell 1.4 percent to 4,380 yen and Sony Corp (6758.T) shed 0.7 percent to 2,680 yen.