GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian markets tense before Fed; Nikkei outperforms

Wed Jun 19, 2013 2:16am EDT

* Asian stocks softer as Fed outcome awaited

* Markets hope for clarity on any pullback in Fed stimulus

* Nikkei outperforms as softer yen boosts exporters

* Major currencies, commodities mostly steady

By Ian Chua

SYDNEY, June 19 (Reuters) - Japanese stocks rose on Wednesday, thanks to a positive lead from Wall Street and a softer yen, outperforming the rest of Asia which anxiously waited for clarity on the U.S. Federal Reserve's next policy step.

Major currencies, commodities and U.S. Treasuries were subdued and European stocks were expected to open steady ahead of the conclusion of the Fed's June 18-19 meeting.

A policy statement is due at 1800 GMT and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will brief media half an hour later.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan eased 0.1 percent. Mainland Chinese stocks led the decline with a 1.1 percent fall, partly as official news reports dampened hopes for policy easing at home.

Hong Kong shares were dragged lower as a result, while South Korea stocks fell 0.7 percent.

Tokyo's Nikkei average was a standout in Asia, bucking the region's softer trend to rise 1.8 percent as exporters such as Honda Motors benefited from a softer yen.

But some market players played down the significance of the Nikkei's bounce, preferring to wait until there is more clarity about the Fed's outlook for its stimulus.

"It's merely a technical rebound," said Mitsushige Akino, chief fund manager at Ichiyoshi Asset Management. He said that with the market still vulnerable to selling, "most investors want to see the outcome before they take long positions."

Bernanke has the opportunity to soothe market jitters about a possible scaling-back of the Fed's $85 billion monthly bond-buying programme, but nobody is sure how markets will interpret his stance.

The quantitative easing policy has helped fuel a global rally in stock markets and recent talk of a pullback in stimulus has knocked major indexes off their highs.

Indeed, the ex-Japan MSCI index has dropped about 8 percent since May 22 when Bernanke told Congress that a decision to dial down its bond-buying programme could come in the "next few meetings" if the U.S. economy maintained its momentum.

Emerging markets, commodity currencies and U.S. Treasuries were among the hardest hit as investors rushed to take profits in a reaction that many analysts have described as overblown.

"Debate over the longevity of the Fed's bond purchase programme has fuelled much of the recent volatility in financial markets and traders will be hoping, at the least for some form of clarity about its future," London-based Capital Spreads trader Jonathan Sudaria wrote in a client note.

With the Fed outcome looming, currency investors retreated to the sidelines, putting the dollar, euro and yen in a holding pattern.

The dollar was flat at 95.31 yen, holding on to recent gains, while the euro was also little changed on the day at 127.65, following a near 1-percent rally on Tuesday.

The euro was also steady near $1.3390, remaining near a four-month peak of $1.3416. All that left the dollar a shade firmer on the day against a currency basket.

Commodities also marked time with U.S. crude a mere 0.2 percent higher at $98.63 per barrel, while copper was a touch softer at $7,004 per tonne.

Gold was steadier at $1,365 an ounce, following a 1.2 percent slide on Tuesday amid uncertainty about the Fed outcome.

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