* Yen near 4-1/2 year low vs dollar
* MSCI Asia ex-Japan down 0.1 pct; Nikkei climbs 2.1 pct
By Masayuki Kitano
SINGAPORE, May 15 (Reuters) - Asian shares were steady on Wednesday, with Tokyo stocks surging to a fresh 5-1/2 year high as Japanese exporters rallied on the yen’s sharp slide.
The yen hovered near a 4-1/2 year low versus the dollar set on Tuesday, with yen bears remaining largely in control since the Japanese currency’s slide accelerated after Bank of Japan’s April 4 launch of drastic monetary stimulus.
The dollar eased 0.2 percent to 102.21 yen, but was not far from Tuesday’s high of roughly around 102.40 yen, the greenback’s strongest level since October 2008.
Japan’s Nikkei share average climbed above the psychologically key 15,000 threshold for the first time since January 2008, getting a boost from the weak yen, which helps Japanese exporters.
“The Nikkei has gained about 1,000 points this month, so there still is caution over the fast pace of rises in a short period of time,” said Yutaka Miura, a senior technical analyst at Mizuho Securities in Tokyo.
“But strong overseas markets indicate that there is a high chance that the money will flow into the Japanese market,” Miura said.
The Nikkei rose 2.1 percent to 15,068.25.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan eased 0.1 percent to 481.10. South Korean equities held steady, while Australian shares rose 0.3 percent.
Some market players expect appetite for risk to remain fairly solid given recent signs of an improving U.S. economy.
“A combination of further improvement of economic performance and low inflation in the U.S. should keep risk appetite buoyant and support the USD on higher yields,” said Anthony Lam, strategist at Credit Agricole in a note.
Data this week showed U.S. retail sales rose unexpectedly in April, underpinning the dollar which could gain further if upcoming U.S. economic data also points to a recovery.
U.S. import prices fell in April due to a drop in oil costs, a positive sign for household finances that also indicated benign inflation pressures.
U.S. stocks rallied to record highs on Tuesday, continuing an ascent driven by the Federal Reserve’s easy monetary policy, though investors’ focus has turned to when the Fed may start to rein in its bond-purchase programme.