GLOBAL MARKETS-On edge for China growth data, Nikkei tries to rally

Tue Apr 15, 2014 8:24pm EDT

* Investors tense for China GDP amid speculation of a soft number

* Shares take heart from late rally on Wall St, better US earnings

* European bond yields hit new lows as Ukraine tensions mount

By Wayne Cole

SYDNEY, April 16 (Reuters) - Asian markets took some comfort from a late spurt by Wall Street on Wednesday as investors tensed for a reading on Chinese economic growth, while rising tensions in Ukraine kept safe-haven sovereign debt well bid.

Japan's Nikkei managed to bounce 1.6 percent having found solid support around 13,885 for a couple of sessions. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was flat, with Australian stocks edging 0.2 percent up in early trade.

China is expected to report its slowest growth in five years, with signs of waning strength already prompting government action to steady the ship.

Growth is seen at 7.3 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, according to the median forecast of 25 economists, down from 7.7 percent in the final quarter of 2013.

"Investors are quite nervous about today's Q1 GDP print. There have been plenty of reports highlighting the risk of China growth falling short," said Stan Shamu, strategist at IG in Melbourne.

Other data may take the edge off the weak start to 2014, with a pick-up in monthly indicators for March forecast after the Lunar New Year holiday season.

Adding to the caution was the evolving situation in Ukraine after Russia declared the country to be on the brink of civil war as Kiev said an "anti-terrorist operation" against pro-Moscow separatists was under way.

That took a toll on European shares as the FTSEurofirst 300 index fell 0.96 percent, but gave a safe-haven boost to bonds with yields on German debt falling to their lowest in 11 months at 1.475 percent.

Wall Street fared better thanks mainly to some solid earnings reports. The Dow rose 0.55 percent and the S&P 500 0.68 percent. The Nasdaq lagged with a 0.29 percent gain but at least stabilised after recent sharp falls.

After the closing bell, Intel Corp beat Street estimates and its shares rose 3 percent.

Yahoo Inc jumped 10 percent thanks to strong results from Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, the Chinese e-commerce company in which Yahoo holds a 24 percent stake.

Markets face another test later when Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen speaks on monetary policy and the economic recovery before the Economic Club of New York at 1625 GMT.

Sentiment could get a lift should she offer reassurance that any rise in interest rates will come well after the Fed finishes its asset-buying program.

In currency markets, the majors were confined to tight orbits with the euro little changed at $1.3810 while the dollar edged up a whisker to 101.90 yen.

The main mover was the New Zealand dollar which took a spill after the country reported inflation at a surprisingly low 1.5 percent in the first quarter. That prompted markets to pare back expectations on how far and fast interest rates might rise there.

The kiwi fell to its lowest in over a week at $0.8592 , and dragged down its Australian cousin to $0.9341 .

In commodities, gold tumbled about 2 percent on Tuesday on heavy stop-loss orders placed by momentum traders as prices broke below the key 200-day moving average.

Early Wednesday the metal was pinned at $1,301.36 an ounce , well off Monday's peak at $1,330.90.

Benchmark Brent oil rose slightly to $109.36 on developments in Ukraine, though gains were limited by the prospect of a resumption of oil exports from Libya.

U.S. crude futures were up 4 cents at $103.79. (Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

A couple walks along the rough surf during sunset at Oahu's North Shore, December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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