Japan stocks track Wall Street higher ahead of crucial U.S. CPI

TOKYO, Feb 14 (Reuters) – Japan’s Nikkei share average rose on Tuesday, following Wall Street’s lead as investors positioned ahead of crucial U.S. inflation data later in the day that could dictate the direction for Federal Reserve policy.

Japanese tech shares gained, again taking cues from U.S. peers. Domestic earnings also continued to split the market between big winners and losers, with shipbuilder Mitsui E&S Holdings soaring 5.6% to lead Nikkei gainers, and online company Recruit Holdings, the biggest drag, falling almost 5%.

The Japanese government nominated academic Kazuo Ueda as the next Bank of Japan head as had been reported in the media, limiting the effect on markets.

The Nikkei was up 0.56% at 27,579.61, near the session’s low, by the midday break. It had rallied to as high as 27,721.82 at open, which had put it in striking distance of last week’s two-month high at 27,821.22.

The broader Topix gained 0.59% to 1,989.33, also close to the session’s low, after earlier rising to 1,996.80, and threatening to retake the 2,000 level for the first time since Dec. 1.

“Tonight we’ll get the long-awaited U.S. CPI data, and it’s almost certain to be a big driver of market direction,” keeping the tone cautious ahead of the result, Kazuo Kamitani, a Nomura strategist, said.

“In the end, 27,700 for Nikkei was too heavy.”

Of the Nikkei’s 225 components, 154 rose, 64 fell and seven were flat.

Chipmaking equipment giant Tokyo Electron was among the standout winners, adding 31 points to the Nikkei with a 2% gain.

Uniqlo store operator Fast Retailing contributed 27 points with a 1% rise. (Reporting by Kevin Buckland; Editing by Rashmi Aich)