The Nikkei 225 index got off to a firm start on Wednesday as investors took cues from Wall Street where stocks, led by financials, had bounced back smartly on Tuesday.

However, with Japan posting a sharp trade deficit for the year, tumbling into negative territory on a full-year basis for the first time in nearly three decades, the market has drifted down from higher levels now.

The Nikkei, which had moved on to 8,800 earlier this morning, is up 16.20 points at 8,728 now.

Bank stocks Mizuho Financial Group, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial and Sumitomo Mitsui opened on a firm note and are trading with sharp gains at present. Steel products are doing well, with JFE Holdings, Nippon Steel, Pacific Metals, Sumitomo Metal Industries and Kobe Steel trading higher.

Among those from the shipbuilding industry, Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding and Kawasaki Heavy Industries are trading higher. Among automotive stocks Hondo Motor, Suzuki Motor and Toyota Motor are trading with sharp gains.

Construction stocks and insurance stocks are up with smart gains, while retail and healthcare stocks are exhibiting a mixed trend.

Japan posted a 725.3 billion yen trade deficit for fiscal 2008, tumbling into negative territory on a full-year basis for the first time since 1980, according to preliminary data released Wednesday by the Ministry of Finance. Exports plunged 16.4% year-on-year to 71.14 trillion yen, while imports declined 4.1% to 71.86 trillion yen. For March, the trade surplus nose-dived 99% on the year to 11 billion yen, with exports tumbling 45.6% to 4.18 trillion yen and imports dropping 36.7% to 4.17 trillion yen.

In currency trading, the Yen is quoted at 98.38 to the U.S. dollar.

Most of the Asian markets had ended with big losses in the previous session after Wall Street tumbled on Monday on renewed concerns over mounting bad loans.

However, on Tuesday, the U.S. markets ended firm with investors picking up stocks after initial hesitancy though corporate results were mixed. Stocks, particularly those from the financial sector, climbed up sharply and ended on a firm note with US Bancorp providing the trigger by announcing better-than-expected first quarter earnings. Encouraging results from Texas Instruments pushed up semiconductors.

Comments from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner contributed significantly to Wall Street's positive close yesterday. Geithner assured the Congressional Oversight Panel that there is enough money left in the government's $700 billion financial rescue program to stabilize the financial system and that the 'vast majority' of U.S. banks have enough capital and that the credit markets may be thawing following their deep freeze.

The Dow ended stronger by 128 points. The Nasdaq closed 36 points up and the S&P 500 closed up 18 points.

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