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TOPIX index near 15-year highs, bank shares bought

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TOKYO, April 6 (Reuters) Tokyo's broad TOPIX index rose more than 1 percent on Thursday, putting it on track to post its highest close in nearly 15 years as bank shares such as Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and other blue chip shares gained on earnings prospects.

Tech firms advanced after the Nasdaq Composite Index closed at a five-year high, while Aeon Co. Ltd. gained after reporting strong earnings, fueling expectations for robust results from other retailers.

''Aeon and other retailers put out good earnings. If more companies are producing bright outlooks, that should help the market,'' said Masayoshi Yano, a senior manager of investment information at Tokai Tokyo Securities Co. Ltd.

Kazuyuki Naito, general manager in the equities sales division at Mitsubishi UFJ Securities, said the market's expectations may be increasing.

''There are high hopes for earnings growth, looking at 10 percent growth this fiscal year, and investors now seem to be asking for more,'' he said.

The TOPIX was up 1.5 percent, or 26.87 points, at 1,772.92 as of 0524 GMT. If the index closes at this level, it would be the highst close since November 1991.

The Nikkei was up 1.24 percent at 17,457.72.

Bank shares rang up gains with Mitsubishi UFJ up 3.8 percent to 1.92 million yen and Mizuho Financial Group Inc. adding 1.6 percent to 1.01 million yen.

Shares in Aeon put on 3.7 percent to 3,060 yen after Asia's largest retailer posted a sixth consecutive year of record profit and forecast slightly better-than-expected profit growth this business year as core sales recover.

Its peer Seven&I Holdings was also up 3 percent to 4,890 yen.

Auto makers advanced on earnings hopes with Toyota Motor Corp., the world's most profitable auto maker, rising 2.6 percent to 6,730 yen. The stock earlier hit a lifetime high of 6,750 yen.

Technology firms were boosted after the U.S. Nasdaq closed at a five-year high.

Advantest Corp., the world's largest maker of chip-testing equipment, rose 3.9 percent to 14,830 yen.

Toshiba Corp., the world's second-largest maker of NAND-type flash memory chips, gained 2.5 percent to 734 yen.

Toshiba and Sandisk Corp. said on Wednesday they will build a new flash memory plant in Japan in anticipation of further growth in demand for phones that can play music and other gadgets.

REUTERS SS VC1428

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