Tokyo stocks wobble after China reports sharp rise in virus deaths

TOKYO, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Japanese shares 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 slipped 0.14% to 23,827.73, while the broader Topix fell 0.34% to 1,713.08.

The death toll in China's Hubei province, the epicentre of the flu-like virus outbreak, rose by 242 to 1,310 as of Wednesday. A record 14,840 cases were reported in Hubei on Thursday, from 2,015 new cases nationwide a day earlier, under a new method for diagnosing cases.

The safe-haven yen firmed against the dollar, pulling back from the three-week low of 110.15 yen hit on Wednesday and weighed on export-related stocks.

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 stocks leading the losses.

Tokyo-listed shares were weighed down by worries of supply chain disruptions from the virus outbreak in China.

A bright spot was Taiko Pharmaceutical, which soared 6.8% to a record high on increasing demand for the drugmaker's virus-removal and infection-control products.

Nikkei's heavyweight SoftBank Group Corp (SFTBF) retreated 5.1%, 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.

Big investors who are critical to SBG's plans for a second massive tech investment fund are refusing to take part unless the first Vision Fund can turn around its performance, Reuters reported on Thursday citing sources.

Bucking the broader weakness, chip-related stocks continued to attract buying.

Semiconductor equipment maker Tokyo Electron Ltd (TOELF) climbed 2.1% to an all-time high as the world's largest chip gear maker Applied Materials Inc (AMAT) forecast better-than-expected revenue and profit for the second quarter.

Sanyo Shokai Ltd gained 3.4% after U.S. activist investor RMB Capital said the Chicago-based firm requested the Japanese clothing company to seek a strategic buyer. (Reporting By Tomo Uetake; editing by Uttaresh.V and Amy Caren Daniel)

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