Nikkei surrenders early gains on suspected Ebola case; health-related stocks soar

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese stocks turned negative on Monday after the health ministry announced a suspected case of the deadly Ebola virus, spooking investors but boosting health-related shares.

The Nikkei benchmark fell 0.5 per cent to close at 17,729.84 points, wiping out early gains inspired by last week's strong Wall Street performance.

The Nikkei is on track for a yearly rise of almost 9 per cent as the weak yen and aggressive asset buying by the Bank of Japan have helped offset the country's disappointing economic performance.

In 2013 it climbed a massive 57 per cent on the back of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's easy-money policies. Tuesday is the final trading day of 2014 for Japanese markets.

A man who returned to Japan from Sierra Leone on Dec. 23 was suspected of contracting Ebola, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare said. Test results are expected by Tuesday morning. If confirmed, it would be the first case positive diagnosis in Asia.

Ebola-related shares soared on the news.

Air filter manufacturer Airtech Japan Ltd jumped 14.5 per cent and protective clothing maker Azearth Corp climbed 16.0 per cent. Fujifilm Holdings Corp, which said in November it expected its influenza drug Avigan to be approved to treat Ebola as soon as the end of the year, gained 0.4 per cent.

The broader Topix fell 0.2 per cent to 1,424.67, while the JPX-Nikkei Index 400 fell 0.3 per cent to 12,930.92.

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