* Euro off two-week lows vs dollar, capped as rate cut eyed
* MSCI Asia ex-Japan up 1.1 pct, tracking global equity rally overnight
* Nikkei scales fresh near five-year highs
* European shares likely edge higher
By Chikako Mogi
TOKYO, April 24 (Reuters) - Asian shares advanced on Wednesday, tracking global equities higher on the back of solid U.S. earnings, but the euro was pressured by soft German data tipping a possible rate cut to support the fragile euro zone economy.
European equities will likely remain underpinned by this expectation of further monetary easing, and European stock markets are seen rising. Financial spreadbetters predict London’s FTSE 100, Paris’s CAC-40 and Frankfurt’s DAX will open up to 0.3 percent higher.
U.S. stock futures were up 0.1 percent to hint at a steady Wall Street open.
Japanese stocks led the gains in Asian bourses, supported by bullish U.S. earnings and a pause in the yen’s rise, with the Nikkei stock average hitting its highest since June 2008.
“I still think U.S., global money is still underweight Japan. They haven’t corrected that just yet,” a senior dealer at a foreign bank in Tokyo said, adding that he had two buy orders for every sell order.
The tone in global equities markets was generally positive despite several sluggish manufacturing surveys around the world, reflecting investor views that weak economic data justifies central banks maintaining monetary stimulus — encouraging investment in shares.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan climbed 1.1 percent, led by a 1.5 percent gain in Australian shares as benign inflation data strengthened the case for more local interest rate cuts.
Australia’s first-quarter core consumer price index (CPI) rose 0.3 percent on-quarter, below a 0.5 percent rise forecast in a Reuters poll, narrowing the odds of interest rate cuts from the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA).
“With such a reading coming out there’s definitely talk of room for further rate cuts. Whether or not the RBA will pull the trigger, it certainly seems that inflation is well under control,” said Stan Shamu, market strategist at IG Markets.
After the bell on Wall Street, Apple shares rose, with the company reporting better-than-expected second-quarter revenue of $43.6 billion.
According to Westpac bank, 72.8 percent of the 147 Standard & Poor’s 500 companies reporting so far have beaten consensus earnings.
Asian bourses also turned their attention to local earnings.
Seoul shares were up 0.8 percent after rising to a one-week high on Wednesday after chipmaker SK Hynix reported quarterly operating profits that handily beat forecasts, but the upside was curbed ahead of more earnings being published.
The euro was around $1.2995, managing to recover from Tuesday’s two-week low of $1.2973 hit after a survey showed Germany, the euro zone’s largest economy, saw business activity decline in April for the first time in five months. Traders saw it as strengthening the case for the European Central Bank to cut interest rates.
The upside for the euro was limited, given the potential for an ECB rate cut and lingering concerns about the growth outlook in the recession-hit euro-zone.
The dollar was down 0.1 percent at 99.35 yen, struggling to break above the key 100-yen mark due to weak U.S. economic reports, but traders say the upcoming Bank of Japan meeting on Friday may provide an opportunity to clear that symbolic level.
Commodities were also capped by concerns about slowing demand. Investors will be eyeing U.S. durable goods orders data and the German IFO index due later in the session for further clues on the state of the global economy.
Brent crude rose 0.3 percent to $100.64 a barrel, holding above $100 by fears that OPEC could cut oil supply if prices fall more, although data from major economies pointing to slower growth and fuel demand capped gains. U.S. crude rose 0.5 percent to $89.66.
London copper climbed 1.5 percent to $6,970 a tonne as brighter corporate earnings sparked a rush of short-covering, but prices held close to one-and-a-half year lows after a string of weak manufacturing data hurt the demand outlook.
“PMI data yesterday wasn’t as good as people expected and so metals have taken some pressure from that,” said Bonnie Liu, an analyst with Macquarie in Shanghai.
Earlier in the Asian session on Wednesday, New Zealand’s central bank held its benchmark interest rate at a record low 2.5 percent for the 17th straight review, reaffirming it expects to be on hold for the rest of the year as the economy picks up and inflation remains tame.