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Last Updated: Monday, 5 April, 2004, 06:13 GMT 07:13 UK
Japan shares soar on US job gains
Tokyo pedestrians reflected in a stock price board showing strong gains

Japanese shares have started the new financial year on strong gains, driven by last week's unexpectedly positive news on US jobs.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 index broke briefly above 12,000 points on Monday for the first time since May 2002, with other Asian markets also rising.

The catalyst was Friday's news that the US added 308,000 jobs in March, far better than expected.

The Nikkei is extending its best 12-month performance in 21 years.

At the close, the Nikkei was up 1.2% at 11,958.32.

The financial year in Japan ended on 31 March with the Nikkei up 47% over the previous year and the broader Topix index up 50%.

The good news about US employment turned attention on Monday to technology and car companies, in the hope that US demand could mean better exports.

Among the gainers were Nissan Motor and Sony Corp.

Recent surveys have indicated growing optimism among Japanese companies that the gloom shrouding corporate Japan for more than a decade could finally be lifting - although the strength of the yen remains a concern.

Japanese consumers are more hopeful too, with one survey showing more people expecting the economy to improve than at any time since early 2000.

Economy Minister Heizo Takenaka said on Sunday that he believed growth for the financial year just ended may have been 3% - well up on the government's 2% forecast.

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