Filomena Scalise

Sydney - Asian shares crept higher on Wednesday following merger-driven gains in Europe and on Wall Street, though investors were wary in case coming figures on Chinese manufacturing again disappointed.

Japan's Nikkei put on 0.9 percent while Australia's main index edged up 0.2 percent. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan added 0.15 percent.

The better mood owed much to Wall Street where the Dow rose 0.4 percent, while the S&P 500 gained 0.41 percent and the Nasdaq 0.97 percent.

The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares jumped 1.34 percent on Tuesday.

In Asia, the focus will be on the flash HSBC manufacturing PMI for China in April, which offers one of the earliest glimpses of activity for the month. Analysts are hopeful the index will at least stabilise around the March level of 48.0.

On Tuesday, China's central bank said it will cut the amount of deposits rural banks must hold as reserves by between 0.5 and 2 percentage points, the latest in a series of measures to help combat a slowing economy.

“The impact of a selective RRR cut is still limited as it will only inject as much as RMB100 billion liquidity into the system,” noted analysts at ANZ.

“We would treat the move as a signal which reflects that the accommodative monetary policy stance will be maintained over the foreseeable future, given that the real economy is expected to remain lukewarm and inflation pressures are mild.”

Also of note in Asia will be data on Australian inflation, which could affect the outlook for interest rates.

Forecasts are that underlying inflation picked up to 2.9 percent in the first quarter and anything higher would add to the risk of a rate rise before year-end.

Australia already has high yields relative to its rich world peers which, combined with improving economic data, has been attracting offshore money into the local dollar. The Australian currency was holding firm at $0.9366 on Wednesday, having risen 0.4 percent overnight.

The US dollar was otherwise sidelined at 102.65 yen and $1.3804 per euro, having held to tight ranges for some days now.

In the United States and Europe all the talk was of mergers, this time in the pharmaceutical sector.

AstraZeneca climbed 4.7 percent after the Sunday Times newspaper reported that Pfizer approached its British rival with a 60 billion pound ($101 billion) takeover offer. Pfizer rose 1.2 percent to $31.23.

GlaxoSmithKline rose 5.2 percent after it agreed to sell its oncology products to Novartis for $14.5 billion. Novartis' shares added 2.3 percent.

In commodity markets, US crude futures fell ahead of data expected to show that US inventories have risen close to record highs. Brent also fell but was cushioned by continued concerns over the stand-off in Eastern Ukraine.

Brent crude was quoted 17 cents firmer at $109.44 a barrel, after reaching a six-week high of $110.36 last week. US crude added 11 cents to $101.86 a barrel.

Gold remained out of favour after touching its lowest in more than two months on Tuesday, weighed down by gains in Wall Street stocks and as outflows from physical gold funds pointed to weak investment appetite.

Early on Wednesday, spot gold was trading at $1,283.20 an ounce, just off a trough of $1,277.10. - Reuters