GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian stocks supported by Fed reassurance; BOJ stands pat

Wed May 22, 2013 2:20am EDT

* Some Asian stock markets buoyed by record highs on Wall St

* Fed officials play down speculation of ending stimulus anytime soon

* BOJ keeps policy unchanged as expected

* JGB futures dip after BOJ, Nikkei stays firm

By Masayuki Kitano and Vidya Ranganathan

SINGAPORE, May 22 (Reuters) - Some Asian stock markets rose on Wednesday following a positive lead from Wall Street, with Japan's Nikkei reaching a 5-1/2 year high and staying firm as the Bank of Japan stood pat after unleashing massive stimulus last month.

European stocks are expected to inch lower with markets taking a breather from a month-long rally before U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's testimony to Congress.

Financial spreadbetters expect Britain's FTSE 100 to open down 0.16 percent, Germany's DAX to open 0.18 percent lower, and France's CAC 40 to shed 0.17 percent.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan eased 0.1 percent, while South Korean shares climbed 0.6 percent.

Tokyo's Nikkei broke above 15,500 for the first time in over five years and rose 1.6 percent, bringing its gains so far in 2013 to about 50 percent.

"The buying just doesn't stop," said Kenichi Hirano, operating officer at Tachibana Securities.

"If the Nikkei gets above 15,500, volatility could increase, trading could become choppy, but with foreigners still buying Japanese shares the trend might still point upward for a while."

The Nikkei stayed on firm footing, while the yen moved little against the dollar, after the Bank of Japan kept its monetary policy unchanged as expected. The BOJ maintained its pledge to increase base money, or cash and deposits at the central bank, at an annual pace of 60 trillion to 70 trillion yen ($585-$682 billion).

Last month, the BOJ unleashed the world's most intense burst of stimulus, promising to inject $1.4 trillion into the economy to meet its pledge of achieving 2 percent inflation in roughly two years.

Japanese government bond (JGB) futures turned negative earlier, as the BOJ refrained from announcing any steps to stem a JGB market rout in the past month and a half. Ten-year JGB futures last stood at 141.90, up 0.01 point on the day but down from 142.07 before the BOJ's decision.

The JGB market is keenly focused on what BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda will say about the recent fall in JGB prices and rise in bond yields in a news conference later on Wednesday.

Stock markets took heart after two senior Federal Reserve officials dampened market speculation that the U.S. central bank might start tapering its stimulus programme this year.

That helped the Dow and the S&P 500 close at new all-time highs on Tuesday.

Markets will be looking for more clues on the Fed's next move when Bernanke testifies before Congress later on Wednesday.

His remarks will be followed by the release of minutes of the last Fed meeting, which economists expect to give further details of how it will eventually manage the exit from ultra-easy policy.

The dollar inched up 0.1 percent versus the yen to 102.62 yen, with investors lacking conviction before Bernanke's testimony.

Westpac currency strategist Sean Callow said he expected the dollar to drop towards 100 yen over the next few days or weeks.

"Bernanke should help it on its way but we may need soft payrolls data in early June to confirm this," he said.

Callow said yen weakness was still driven heavily by speculative positioning, and Japanese demand for foreign bonds was still small. A stronger economy would encourage Japanese to keep money at home and possibly plough more into domestic stocks, he said.

"Moreover, we view the relative success of Abenomics into 2014 as positive for yen, not negative," he said.

Recent economic data has been encouraging and the Nikkei has soared in response to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's aggressive growth strategy, termed "Abenomics".

Against a broader basket of currencies, the dollar held steady at 83.869, staying well off 3-year highs hit last week.

In commodities markets, Brent crude slipped 0.3 percent to $103.58 a barrel, while gold edged up 0.2 percent to $1,377.95 an ounce.