Tokyo shares wobble after China reports sharp rise in virus deaths

TOKYO, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Japanese stocks wobbled on Thursday as a sharp jump in the death toll from the coronavirus triggered concerns that the epidemic could get worse before it is brought under control.

The benchmark Nikkei average was virtually flat at 23,875.75 by the midday break, while the broader Topix fell 0.2% to 1,714.98.

The death toll in China's Hubei province, the epicentre of the virus outbreak, rose by 242 to 1,310 as of Wednesday. It recorded 14,840 new cases as of Feb. 12, up from a rise of 1,638 new cases on Tuesday.

The safe-haven yen firmed against the dollar and weighed on export-related stocks, pulling back from its three-week low of 110.15 yen that it touched in the previous session.

About two-thirds of the 33 sector sub-indexes on the Tokyo Stock Exchange were trading lower, with iron and steel , machinery and paper and pulp leading the losses.

Taiko Pharmaceutical soared 10.7% to a record high on increasing demand for the drugmaker's virus-removal and infection-control products.

Sanyo Shokai Ltd gained 2.5% after U.S. activist investor RMB Capital said the Chicago-based firm requested the Japanese clothing company to seek a strategic buyer.

Elsewhere, the Nikkei's heavyweight SoftBank Group Corp (SFTBF) retreated 0.6% after a 11.9% surge on Wednesday in response to a U.S. federal judge's approval of a takeover of its unit Sprint (S) by T-Mobile.

The tech conglomerate's third-quarter operating profit fell 99%, pulled down by losses at the $100 billion Vision Fund, but its Founder and Chief Executive Officer Masayoshi Son said the company's performance was already improving. (Reporting By Tomo Uetake; editing by Uttaresh.V)

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