Japan's Nikkei stock average nudged down 0.2 percent on Thursday, with losses in exporters such as Sony Corp on concern about the U.S. economy narrowly outweighing support from shippers and defensive shares. Nippon Steel climbed 2.3 percent after the Nikkei business daily said the steelmaker planned to raise its capacity utilization rate from the current 50 percent to 60 to 70 percent as early as July on expectations of a recovery in demand from carmakers and others.

Wall Street fell on Wednesday as bond yields rose, raising fears this could stifle a nascent U.S. economic recovery by leading to increased borrowing costs for consumers and corporations.

But analysts said the impact on Tokyo at this point was countered by increasingly bright signs in economies around the world, adding that while U.S. stocks and bond prices both fell, the dollar was climbing against the yen.

Even the looming bankruptcy of struggling U.S. automaker General Motors was being factored in, some said. Though the chances of General Motors going into Chapter 11 are quite high, the market is currently watching the long-term direction of the economy even more, said Masayoshi Yano, senior market analyst at Meiwa Securities. But others noted that the market's recent repeated failures to top this year's high of 9,503.91, most recently on Wednesday, show fresh factors are needed and stocks may remain rangebound without them.

GM is weighing a bit, but more than that, the market simply needs to consolidate its gains at this level a bit more while trying to figure out which direction to take, said Yoku Ihara, manager at the investment information department of Retela Crea Securities.

It's dithering a bit, trying to decide which way to go.

The benchmark Nikkei shed 15.73 points to 9,423.04 after briefly turning positive, while the broader Topix was flat at 892.89.

Exporters, ever-sensitive to the vagaries of the U.S. economy, lost some ground, with Sony Corp down 0.4 percent to 2,465 yen and Nikon off 1.3 percent at 1,378 yen.

But investors were leery of selling due to hopes that Japanese industrial production figures due out just before the start of trade on Friday will be good.

Mitsui O.S.K. Lines rose 1.7 percent to 642 yen after a key freight index extended gains by 7.6 percent, with fellow shipper Kawasaki Kisen up 1.5 percent. Nippon Yusen edged up 0.7 percent to 433 yen.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Hugh Lawson)