* China GDP grows 7.4 pct y/y, just pipping forecasts
* Markets relieved growth was not much weaker
* Nikkei leads the way encouraged by late rally on Wall St
* Softbank, Yahoo reap the benefits of Alibaba holdings
By Wayne Cole
SYDNEY, April 16 Asian share markets made broad gains on Wednesday after China reported economic growth a touch above forecasts, a relief for investors who had feared a much weaker outcome.
China's economy grew 7.4 percent in the first quarter, from a year earlier, pipping forecasts of 7.3 percent. That was welcome news to many given there had been foreboding whispers that growth would be nearer 7.0 percent following a string of soft numbers recently.
Other data for March were mixed with industrial output a shade under estimates, but retail sales picking up.
"This is likely to be the low point for this year," said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at AMP Capital in Sydney. "Momentum in both industrial production and retail sales already appears to have started to pick up in March and policy fine tuning is likely to help as well."
"This should be positive for the Chinese share market which with a forward PE of 8.5 times is priced for a hard landing and credit crisis."
The relief rippled through regional markets with Japan's Nikkei adding to early gains to be up a solid 2.5 percent.
Shares in Shanghai rose 0.3 percent, while MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan gained 0.5 percent.
The cheers spread to Europe with the FTSE 100 and DAX both expected to open up 0.8 percent, and France's CAC 40 1.2 percent.
The mood had already been aided by a late rally on Wall Street 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.
Another fortunate stakeholder is telecoms giant SoftBank and it jumped 8 percent on expectations a coming IPO for Alibaba will be a blockbuster.
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.
Leaning the other way was caution at 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 on Tuesday as the FTSEurofirst 300 index fell 0.96 percent. In contrast, bonds got a safe-haven boost with yields on German debt falling to their lowest in 11 months at 1.475 percent.
In currency markets, the majors were confined to tight orbits with the euro little changed at $1.3817 while the dollar edged up to 102.18 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 $0.8587 , and dragged down its Australian cousin to $0.9365 .
In commodities, gold was pinned at $1,297.90 an ounce , well off Monday's peak at $1,330.90. It had 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.
Benchmark Brent oil dipped 14 cents to $109.22 on developments in Ukraine, while U.S. crude futures were up 5 cents at $103.80. (Editing by Shri Navaratnam)