TOKYO (Reuters): Asian shares rose on Wednesday, buoyed by firm U.S. corporate earnings, signs of an improving U.S. housing market, and healthy demand for euro zone sovereign debt, while investor focus shifted to the Federal Reserve's policy meeting.
Markets will be looking for the Fed's economic assessment and clues to future monetary policy, including the probability of a third round of quantitative easing, when it ends its two-day meeting later on Wednesday.
The U.S. central bank will likely show it is slightly more upbeat on the economy but in little hurry to raise borrowing costs, although investors wishing for clues on the prospect of a further monetary easing may be disappointed.
"The global economic situation remains fragile even in the United States, but equities markets will be underpinned by the global monetary easing environment aimed at supporting growth through ample funding," said Tetsuro Ii, the president of Commons Asset Management in Tokyo.
Regional shares were also boosted by Apple Inc's forecast-beating first-quarter earnings that helped its shares jump 7 percent overnight. South Korea's large-cap technology names outperformed while Apple's Japanese suppliers were in strong demand, including Ibiden Co Ltd and Murata Manufacturing Co Ltd.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan edged up 0.3 percent while Japan's Nikkei average added 0.8 percent.
Investors, spooked by signs of rising political turmoil in Europe, were relieved when successful bond auctions sent yields on Dutch, Spanish and Italian debt lower on Tuesday, a day after the government in the Netherlands collapsed in a crisis over budget cuts.
U.S. housing data also brightened the market mood, showing a steady recovery in the battered sector, with single-family home prices rising in February for the first time in 10 months and upward revisions to past data.
"The latest round of housing data releases seems to support our view that further easing is not needed. In the short term, equities could struggle if QE3 appears off the table," Barclays Capital analysts said in a research note.
The euro was stuck in a range, hovering just below $1.3200 , off a two-week high of $1.3225 reached on Friday.
EARNINGS IN FOCUS
Worries over the euro zone staying in a recessionary phase longer than expected and a slowdown in the Chinese economy have also been undermining sentiment, but U.S. earnings so far have proven stronger than expected.
With results in from 153 S&P 500 companies, more than three-quarters have topped analysts' estimates, according to Thomson Reuters Proprietary Research. Japan's earnings season starts in earnest on Wednesday, with Canon Inc reporting after the close.
"Markets have been pressured with various concerns, dragging down expectations also, so there is scope for a rebound even if growth momentum is lacklustre around the world," said Eiji Kinouchi, senior strategist at Daiwa Securities.
Barclays analysts said Asia was expected to continue to show resilience to global factors.
"Major auto-exporting economies, such as Korea, Japan and Thailand, are benefiting from stronger global demand, as well as the improvement in supply chains," they said.
South Korean shipments to the United States jumped nearly 28 percent in March thanks to a free trade agreement, even when weak sales to the other big markets such as China and the European Union clouded prospects. Japan's exports rose in March from a year earlier for the first time in six months, mainly on the strength of U.S. sales.
Asian credit markets steadied, with the rebound in equities, keeping the spread on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment-grade index nearly unchanged from Tuesday.
Oil rose, with U.S. crude futures inching up 0.2 percent at $103.72 a barrel and Brent futures up 0.1 percent at $118.26.
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