GLOBAL MARKETS-China shares spark Asia rally as reform plans buoy mood
* China-share index in Hong Kong up 5.3 pct on hopes for economic reform
* Focus again on Fed policy ahead of October minutes
* BOJ meets Nov 20/21, to reaffirm aggressive stimulus program
* European shares to open flat to modestly lower - bookmakers
By Wayne Cole
SYDNEY, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Asian share markets advanced for a third straight session on Monday, cheered by the prospect of extended stimulus in the United States and of real economic reform in China.
China's offshore market put on more than 5 percent, with UBS upgrading H-shares - Chinese stocks listed in Hong Kong - to "overweight" on a view the reforms announced after a party plenum should help them outperform Asia ex-Japan for the next few months.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan added 1.4 percent, having boasted its best daily rise in almost two months on Friday.
European shares were expected to open steady to slightly weaker, with Britain's FTSE 100 seen down as much as 0.1 percent, Germany's DAX down as much as 0.1 percent and France's CAC 40 seen trading flat, according to financial bookmakers.
The Chinese Communist Party unwrapped surprisingly bold reforms late last week, pledging to let the market play a "decisive" role in the economy.
That helped the Shanghai Composite rise 2.6 percent, its third straight session of gains, while Hong Kong's China Enterprises Index surged 5.3 percent.
"Multiple growth-friendly measures were announced and represent the biggest freeing up of China's economic policy since the 1990s," said analysts at ANZ in a note.
"Our China economists think that if these reforms are implemented successfully it will substantially reduce the downside risks to China's economy." ANZ added.
Tokyo's Nikkei was little changed after touching a six-month peak earlier on Monday. Last week, the index amassed its biggest weekly rise in four years.
The Bank of Japan holds a policy meeting on Wednesday and Thursday and is expected to maintain its ultra-loose policy. The BOJ has been perhaps the most aggressive of any major central bank in its asset buying, putting downward pressure on the yen in the process.
The U.S. dollar was trading at 100.07 yen on Monday, not far from its two-month high of 100.43. The euro bought 135.10 yen but faced major resistance at the October highs around 135.50, a level not seen since November 2009.
The euro was steady on the U.S. dollar at $1.350, having edged slowly higher for the past week or so as tapering talk weighed on the dollar. Measured against a basket of currencies the dollar was a shade lower at 80.765.
THE FED COMMUNICATES
This is another important week for U.S. monetary policy as there are a host of central bankers appearing, including Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who speaks on "Communication and Monetary Policy" on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the Fed releases minutes from its October policy meeting, which will get trawled for hints on when it might start winding back its asset-buying programme.
Last week, presumptive Fed chief Janet Yellen sounded in no rush to taper, reinforcing market speculation that any move was more likely in March than December.
"If Fed officials think a December tapering is a realistic possibility, some hints to that effect would presumably make their way into the minutes this week," said Michelle Girard, chief US economist at RBS.
"Just making clear that policymakers were open to taking action in December if the economic data showed the impact of the government shutdown was limited would likely suffice to shift expectations."
Girard still believes March is the more likely window for a move, if only because bond markets are typically very thin in December so a taper then could risk major dislocation.
Figures on consumer prices and retail sales are also due on Wednesday and are expected to show that price pressures and spending both were subdued in October.
Speculation over the timing of stimulus tapering has buffeted markets since May when Bernanke first suggested a rollback of the bond-buying programme was not far off.
In commodity markets, spot gold was steady at $1,286.80 an ounce, having crawled away from last week's trough of $1,260.89.
Brent crude for January delivery eased 36 cents to $108.14 a barrel. U.S. crude for January shed 37 cents to $93.47, having suffered their sixth weekly drop last week due to a larger-than-expected rise in inventories.