* Japan-U.S. trade talk hopes lift automakers
* SoftBank Group falls on U.S. concerns over T-Mobile-Sprint deal
* Komatsu, Hitachi Construction rise on upbeat China data
By Ayai Tomisawa
TOKYO, April 17 (Reuters) - Japan’s Nikkei advanced to a 4-1/2-month high on Wednesday as automakers rallied on hopes of progress in Japan-U.S. trade talks, while companies with large exposure to China gained on upbeat Chinese economic data.
The Nikkei share average ended up 0.3 percent at 22,277.97, its highest closing level since early December.
Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said on Tuesday that no deal had been reached on individual trade issues after two days of talks with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, but Motegi hoped for a good result “at an early stage.”
The news lifted shares of automakers facing the threat of higher U.S. tariffs on Japanese auto exports, traders said.
Toyota Motor Corp rose 2.0 percent, Honda Motor Co added 1.0 percent and Mazda Motor Corp soared 2.5 percent.
“There was a possibility that the issue would be brought to the table, so the market seems to be relieved,” said Ryohei Yoshida, senior technical analyst at Daiwa Securities.
Strong economic data in China added to the positive sentiment on Japanese stocks.
China’s economy grew 6.4 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, data showed on Wednesday, defying expectations for a further slowdown.
Industrial output also grew 8.5 percent in March from a year earlier, the fastest pace since July 2014, as factories ramped up production in anticipation of more business amid government measures to support the economy.
The data sparked gains in construction-related firms with exposure to China.
Construction equipment makers Komatsu Ltd jumped 1.9 percent and Hitachi Construction Machinery advanced 1.3 percent, while industrial machinery maker Yaskawa Electric soared 3.3 percent.
Declining stocks included index-heavyweight SoftBank Group Corp, down 1.5 percent on news that the U.S. Justice Department has concerns about the structure of a proposed $26 billion merger of T-Mobile US Inc and SoftBank’s Sprint Corp.
SoftBank, which has a big impact on the Nikkei benchmark index, took 20 points off the index.
Elsewhere, Omron Corp rallied 4.3 percent after Nidec Corp said it would buy Omron’s automotive electronics unit for about 100 billion yen.
The broader Topix rose 0.3 percent to 1,630.68. (Reporting by Ayai Tomisawa Editing by Shri Navaratnam)