Asian shares firm near seven-year high

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IOL pic sep3 market arrows . Photo: Filomena Scalise

Tokyo - Asian shares steadied near seven-year highs on Thursday, underpinned by hopes of a ceasefire in Ukraine, though a cautious mood prevailed for now ahead of the European Central Bank's meeting.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan eased 0.1 percent after a brief rise to a seven-year high while Japan's Nikkei average shed 0.2 percent from seven-month highs the previous day.

Global shares rallied on Wednesday as Russian President Vladimir Putin, after speaking to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko by phone, said he believed Kiev and pro-Russian separatists could reach agreement at planned talks in Minsk on Friday.

While Poroshenko also indicated the conversation with Putin had injected some momentum into efforts to end a conflict, Ukraine Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk dismissed the plan as a “deception”, reminding investors a deal is far from assured.

“There's no definite lead coming out of the United States. Investors are a bit cautious about geopolitical tensions,” said Tony Russell, senior equities adviser at RBS Morgans Reynolds Equities.

The S&P 500 ended down 0.1 percent and the Nasdaq Composite lost 0.6 percent, underperforming many other markets.

US shares were dragged down by a fall in Apple, which was hit by concerns over a possible security breach of its iCloud service a week before the launch of its new iPhone and as rival Samsung Electronics Ltd launched a new product.

“I suspect hedge funds have started to unwind their long-Apple, short-Samsung positions ahead of the announcement of the new iPhone,” said Norihiro Fujito, senior strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

Samsung Electronics rose 1.8 percent, helping to lift Seoul's Kospi 0.3 percent.

The euro traded at $1.3147, little changed in Asia but off a one-year low of $1.3110 hit on Tuesday.

With the European economy taking the brunt of tit-for-tat sanctions between the West and Russia, hopes of a ceasefire in Ukraine helped the common currency.

In the near-term, the currency could see more short-covering given heavy selling in recent weeks on speculation that the ECB could start an asset-purchase programme soon.

While the ECB is unlikely to take action on Thursday, any hint from ECB president Mario Draghi that the bank is readying such a programme could drive down the euro.

In addition to the ECB, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England will have a policy meeting, though none of them is expected to change policy settings.

The yen traded at 104.83 yen to the dollar, off Wednesday's eight-month low of 105.31.

Sterling hit a seven-month low of $1.6440 on Wednesday and last stood at $1.6463, not helped by jitters Scotland may vote to break up the UK in a referendum on September 18. - Reuters


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