TOKYO, March 30 (Reuters) - Japan's Nikkei share average is seen trapped in a range on Friday as many investors lock in profits in Tokyo stocks that have rallied in the January-March period, but the index is still expected to log its best first-quarter performance in 24 years. "We're now at month-end and investors will be taking profits but there is plenty of appetite from buyers on dips," said Hiroichi Nishi, equity general manager at SMBC Nikko Securities. Market players said the Nikkei was likely to trade between 10,050 and 10,200 on Friday after Nikkei futures in Chicago closed at 10,100, down 10 points or 0.1 percent from the Osaka close of 10,110. "The yen is slightly on the stronger side but it is still much weaker than most companies' guidance, so there will be fresh buying next week on expectations for corporate earnings growth," said Nishi. Strategists said oil-related stocks will be sold after oil prices fell for a third straight session on growing talk of a release of strategic petroleum reserves. The Dow eked out a slim gain on Thursday, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq ended down as investors took profit in blue chips. Data from the United States was mixed, with new unemployment claims falling to a four-year low last week, but the previous week's figures were revised higher, which some took as another sign that the labour market recovery may be stalling.
U.S. fourth-quarter GDP remained unrevised at 3.0 percent, while personal income grew at a much faster pace than expected. On Thursday, the benchmark Nikkei ended down 0.7 percent at 10,114.79, while the broader Topix index slipped 0.8 percent to 857.74. Market participants say even with the more than 19 percent rally since January, Japanese equities remain attractive because they are still undervalued compared to global peers. According to Thomson Reuters Datastream, Japan's Topix carries a 12-month forward price-to-book ratio of 1.0 compared to S&P 500's 2.0 and 1.4 for STOXX Europe 600. > Dow back in black as Wall St cuts losses near quarter-end > Euro slips, yen rises; Spanish budget ahead > Prices up as jobless figures argue case for monetary ease > Gold edges down, pares losses as quarter-end nears > Oil falls, talk of SPR release encourages profit-taking STOCKS TO WATCH - TOSHIBA CORP Toshiba has decided to join the bidding race to sponsor Elpida Memory Inc's turnaround from bankruptcy, setting the stage for a battle with U.S.-based Micron Technology, the Nikkei business daily said on Friday. - SONY CORP Sony promoted film studio co-chairman Michael Lynton to a larger role overseeing entertainment operations on Thursday, part of a reorganisation as a new CEO prepares to take over the Japan-based electronics company. - IDEMITSU KOSAN Idemitsu Kosan Co, Japan's third-biggest refiner, aims to refine 6 percent more crude oil in the quarter to June than a year earlier as it plans to more than double its refining volume for exports, the company said after the bell on Thursday.
- NIPPON TELEVISION NETWORK CORP Nippon Television Network and satellite broadcasters BS Nippon Corp and CS Nippon Corp will merge under a broadcasting holding company on Oct. 1, the Nikkei said on Thursday.