* Risk sentiment bolstered by gains in US, Europe
* Market on guard for China manufacturing data
* Major currencies in tight range, Aussie awaits inflation
By Wayne Cole
SYDNEY, April 23 Asian shares crept higher on
Wednesday following merger-driven gains in Europe and on Wall
Street, though investors were wary in case coming figures on
Chinese manufacturing again disappointed.
Japan's Nikkei put on 0.9 percent while Australia's
main index edged up 0.2 percent. MSCI's broadest index
of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan added 0.15
The better mood owed much to Wall Street where the Dow
rose 0.4 percent, while the S&P 500 gained 0.41
percent and the Nasdaq 0.97 percent.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares
jumped 1.34 percent on Tuesday.
In Asia, the focus will be on the flash HSBC manufacturing
PMI for China in April, which offers one of the earliest
glimpses of activity for the month. Analysts are hopeful the
index will at least stabilise around the March level of 48.0.
On Tuesday, China's central bank said it will cut the amount
of deposits rural banks must hold as reserves by between 0.5 and
2 percentage points, the latest in a series of measures to help
combat a slowing economy.
"The impact of a selective RRR cut is still limited as it
will only inject as much as RMB100 billion liquidity into the
system," noted analysts at ANZ.
"We would treat the move as a signal which reflects that the
accommodative monetary policy stance will be maintained over the
foreseeable future, given that the real economy is expected to
remain lukewarm and inflation pressures are mild."
Also of note in Asia will be data on Australian inflation,
which could affect the outlook for interest rates.
Forecasts are that underlying inflation picked up to 2.9
percent in the first quarter and anything higher would add to
the risk of a rate rise before year-end.
Australia already has high yields relative to its rich world
peers which, combined with improving economic data, has been
attracting offshore money into the local dollar. The Australian
currency was holding firm at $0.9366 on Wednesday,
having risen 0.4 percent overnight.
The U.S. dollar was otherwise sidelined at 102.65 yen
and $1.3804 per euro, having held to tight ranges for
some days now.
In the United States and Europe all the talk was of mergers,
this time in the pharmaceutical sector.
AstraZeneca climbed 4.7 percent after the Sunday
Times newspaper reported that Pfizer approached its
British rival with a 60 billion pound ($101 billion) takeover
offer. Pfizer rose 1.2 percent to $31.23.
GlaxoSmithKline rose 5.2 percent after it agreed to
sell its oncology products to Novartis for $14.5
billion. Novartis' shares added 2.3 percent.
In commodity markets, U.S. crude futures fell ahead of data
expected to show that U.S. inventories have risen close to
record highs. Brent also fell but was cushioned by continued
concerns over the stand-off in Eastern Ukraine.
Brent crude was quoted 17 cents firmer at $109.44 a
barrel, after reaching a six-week high of $110.36 last week.
U.S. crude added 11 cents to $101.86 a barrel.
Gold remained out of favour after touching its lowest in
more than two months on Tuesday, weighed down by gains in Wall
Street stocks and as outflows from physical gold funds pointed
to weak investment appetite.
Early Wednesday, spot gold was trading at $1,283.20
an ounce, just off a trough of $1,277.10.
(Editing by Chris Gallagher)