By Chikako Mogi
TOKYO, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Asian shares took a breather from
recent rallies on Thursday though sentiment was underpinned by
the U.S. Federal Reserve's pledge to retain its stimulus policy
and on signs of stabilisation in the euro zone.
Positive economic reports from Asia failed to lift markets
as investors continued to assess regional earnings results and
ahead of key data such as China's official manufacturing PMI and
U.S. monthly nonfarm payrolls on Friday.
The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside
Japan fell 0.4 percent after rising 1.3 percent
over the past two sessions to nearly an 18-month high. The index
was set for a monthly gain of about 2.4 percent.
Australian shares eased 0.4 percent, taking a
breather from their 10-day winning streak, the longest in more
than nine years, which hoisted local shares to 21-month highs.
'Certainly 2013 has started with an air of optimism. U.S.
politicians show some willingness to deal with problems, no
fresh issues have emerged in Europe and the Chinese economy is
exhibiting firmer growth. Volatility has receded with investors
keen to put cash to work in other asset classes,' said Craig
James, a strategist at CommSec in Sydney.
Southeast Asian stock markets were generally softer but
remained near their highs. The Philippines hit a record
high for the third day running on Wednesday and Thailand's market surged to a more than 18-year high on Wednesday.
The Federal Reserve on Wednesday kept in place its monthly
$85 billion bond-buying stimulus plan, arguing the support was
needed to lower unemployment.
Underscoring the Fed's cautious view, data on Wednesday
showed the U.S. economy unexpectedly contracted in the fourth
quarter. Still, a lot of that weakness came from a plunge in
defense spending, suggesting the underlying fundamentals were
not as bad as the headline figures indicated.
In Asia, the data on Thursday provided cause for optimism.
Taiwan raised its economic growth forecast for 2013, after the
fourth quarter expanded faster than expected and posted its best
growth in five quarters on improved demand for the island's
electronics exports and stronger consumption.
'Taiwan's economic growth will be better this year as
Europe's outlook is becoming positive, it will have a bigger
rebound as an export-oriented economy,' said Scott Chen,
economist at Sinopac Commercial Bank in Taipei.
The Philippines said on Thursday its economy grew 1.5
percent in the December quarter from the previous three months,
better than market forecasts.
YEN OFF LOWS
Japan's benchmark Nikkei stock average shed 0.6
percent after soaring 2.3 percent to a 33-month high the day
before, taking its cue from the yen firming from fresh lows hit
'It's too early to take profit,' a trader at a foreign bank
said. 'People should look for names which are still undervalued,
still haven't moved (in line with the rally in the Nikkei) and
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's approach of revitalizing Japan's
economy through an aggressive mix of fiscal steps and monetary
easing is expected to keep the yen on a weakening path.
The dollar eased 0.3 percent to 90.81 yen after
reaching 91.41 yen on Wednesday, its highest since June
2010. The euro also fell 0.3 percent to 123.24 yen, after
hitting 123.87 on Wednesday, its peak since May 2010.
Japan's December factory output rose at the fastest pace in
a year and a half and firms expect further gains, raising hopes
that stabilising global demand and exports will help pull the
economy from its slump.
The euro held near a 14-month high of $1.3588 scaled
Reports from the euro zone on Wednesday underscored views
that the debt crisis-hit region may be overcoming the worst,
with economic sentiment improving more than expected across all
sectors in January and a gauge for the phase of the business
cycle also rising this month.
'The rise in the EUR is a sign of the success of the
European Central Bank on the credit front, which matters far
more than a short term rise in EUR/USD. Money is flowing into
Europe and from North back to the South or from ECB funding to
money market funding,' Sebastien Galy, strategist at Societe
Generale, said in a note to clients.
Spot gold hovered near its one-week high of $1,683.39
an ounce reached on Wednesday.
U.S. crude futures steadied around $97.93 a barrel
and Brent crude was up 0.2 percent to $115.09.
(Additional reporting by Dominic Lau in Tokyo and Miranda
Maxwell in Melbourne; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Shri
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