By Lisa Twaronite, MarketWatch
TOKYO (MarketWatch) -- Japanese stock indexes ended higher Friday as shares of exporters, particularly automakers, rose in line with the dollar's recent strength.
Around the region, markets in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Manila and Jakarta were closed in observance of Good Friday.
The Nikkei 225 Average ended up 0.1 percent, or 15.13 points, at 11,761.10. The broader Topix of all Tokyo Stock Exchange first section issues gained 5.33 points to 1,193.77.
A stronger dollar boosts the value of exporters' profits when they're repatriated into local currency.
The dollar was trading at 106.46 yen, compared to 106.31 yen in late U.S. trading Thursday. See Currencies.
Taiwain's Taiex index added 1.1 percent.
On Friday, Taiwan's central bank raised the discount rate on 10-day loans to commercial lenders by an eighth of a percentage point to 1.875 percent at its quarterly policy meeting, on the low end of market expectations. The decision was forecast by seven out of nine economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.
Taiwan Semiconductor /zigman2/quotes/204359850/composite TSM +3.73% rose 1.8 percent.
South Korea's Kospi index ended up 0.9 percent.
In Tokyo, Toyota /zigman2/quotes/203803129/delayed JP:7203 -0.27% /zigman2/quotes/200537742/composite TM +1.76% rose 2.0 percent and Honda Motor /zigman2/quotes/200490352/delayed JP:7267 -4.37% /zigman2/quotes/207173990/composite HMC +2.15% was up 2.3 percent.
Sony /zigman2/quotes/201361720/delayed JP:6758 +0.72% was up 2.1 percent, shrugging off a local media report about its future outlook.
In an interview with the Japanese daily newspaper Asahi Shimbun, company president Ryoji Chubachi said the electronics and entertainment giant is unlikely to hit its target of an operating profit margin of 10 percent in the fiscal year through March 2007. Sony expects operating profit margin of some 1 percent for the current year to March, the report said.
Shares of Toshiba /zigman2/quotes/205628942/delayed JP:6502 0.00% fell 0.5 percent.
On Thursday, a California jury awarded Lexar Media $84 million in punitive damages in its flash memory intellectual property case against Toshiba and its U.S. unit Toshiba America Electronic Components Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203922036/composite TOSBF +2.31% . On Wednesday, the jury awarded the Fremont, Calif.-based digital media company $381.4 million in damages after finding Toshiba liable for breach of fiduciary duty and theft of trade secrets in the development of certain flash memory technology. See full story.
In the latest twist of an ongoing hostile merger saga here, Softbank unit Softbank Investment Corp. /zigman2/quotes/200067066/delayed JP:8473 -4.02% said Thursday it is now the largest shareholder of Fuji TV, in an apparent move to prevent Japan's largest commercial broadcaster from being taken over by Internet startup Livedoor Co.
Japan deflation remains entrenched
Data released early in the session underscored that Japan remains the grip of deflation, meaning the Bank of Japan is highly unlikely to end its ultra-easy monetary policy anytime in the near future.
The consumer price index for Tokyo's 23 wards, the key gauge of consumer prices in Tokyo dropped 0.2 percent in fiscal 2004 for the sixth straight annual decline, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said in a preliminary report.
Core CPI, which excludes perishable food prices, registered 97.2 for the year to March 31 against the base of 100 for 2000. For the month of March, Tokyo core, considered a proxy for the national numbers released next month, was flat from February and fell 0.5 percent on year.
"The rate of decline was unchanged from the previous two months, and shows that deflation is continuing, although special factors such as cuts in telephone rates are contributing somewhat to this," said Peter Morgan, chief Japan economist at HSBC Securities in Tokyo.