GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian shares inch down amid caution before Fed decision

Thu Sep 13, 2012 1:27am EDT

* MSCI Asia ex-Japan down 0.1 pct, Nikkei recovers to rise 0.5 pct

* Euro near highs vs yen, dollar

* Dollar index hovers near four-month lows, USD/JPY hits 3-1/2 mth low

* Fed policy results due 1630 GMT, Bernanke briefing to follow

* European shares seen pausing

By Chikako Mogi

TOKYO, Sept 13 (Reuters) - Asian shares slipped slightly in choppy trade on Thursday ahead of the U.S. Federal Reserve's decision later in the day, but investors remained cautiously optimistic for further stimulus action to bolster the world's largest economy.

Commodities from oil to gold were also held in tight ranges ahead of the Fed decision expected to be released at 1630 GMT, followed by Chairman Ben Bernanke's news conference about two hours later.

A Reuters poll showed economists raised their bets of a third round of Fed bond buying known as quantitative easing (QE) to 65 percent from 60 percent in August.

As the dollar suffered from expectations for QE, which would be equal to printing money and diluting the value of the greenback, the euro stayed near four-month highs against the U.S. currency on signs Europe was taking steps to manage its debt crisis.

European equities were seen pausing, while a 0.1 percent drop in U.S. stock futures suggested a weak Wall Street start. Financial spreadbetters called London's FTSE 100, Paris's CAC-40 and Frankfurt's DAX to open little changed.

"Any goodwill towards risk assets, probably more so in FX land, could be undone pretty quickly if Ben Bernanke fails to live up to what is expected of him and the Fed board today," said Chris Weston, trader at IG Markets.

"Given the good run of equities and the fall in the USD since June, there is a real possibility (even if we get what we want) that a classic buy-the-rumour, sell-the-fact type event plays out," he said.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was down 0.1 percent after swinging in a plus and minus 0.2 percent range.

Australian and Shanghai shares were the worst performers, both dropping 0.4 percent while South Korean shares recouped earlier losses to be nearly flat.

"There's no true indication on why the market should be selling off today but they're all a bit quiet ahead of that (decision)," said Juliana Roadley, market analyst at Commonwealth Securities, of the Australian stock market.

"I think major investors just don't want to get in ahead of this major announcement," said Roadley.

Japan's Nikkei average outperformed with a 0.5 percent rise, buoyed by gains in shippers and Apple suppliers, amid growing expectations of an easing of U.S. monetary conditions.

The dollar index, measured against a basket of key currencies, stuck near a four-month low and the dollar fell to a fresh 3-1/2 month low of 77.68 against the yen.

"We expect the US dollar to emerge weaker both on the day and multi-day/week on delivery of QE," said Sean Callow, senior currency strategist at Westpac in Sydney.

Sluggish stocks weighed on Asian credit markets, widening the spread on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment-grade index by 3 basis points, but still near its tightest level since August last year.

South Korea's central bank unexpectedly held interest rates steady at 3 percent on Thursday, waiting to see the effect from a euro-zone bond-buying programme. Central banks in Indonesia and the Philippines also hold policy meetings this session.

GERMAN RULING BOOSTS EURO

The euro clung near its four-month high of $1.2937 touched on Wednesday, supported by positive developments in the euro zone.

Pro-European parties won a sweeping victory in Netherlands, a core euro zone country, adding to the optimism after a German constitutional court approved the euro zone's new rescue fund and budget pact, with some conditions.

The ruling is another step in a concerted effort to preserve the common currency bloc, with the European Central Bank deciding to buy short-term bonds of states that apply for bailout and abide by strict conditions, and the European Union proposing a single euro zone banking supervisor.

U.S. crude steadied at $97.04 a barrel and Brent inched up 0.1 percent to $116.10.

Spot gold steadied at $1,731.54 an ounce, after expectations for a new U.S. monetary stimulus fuelled a rally to 6-1/2 month highs of $1,746.20 on Wednesday.

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