* MSCI ex-Japan Asia shares briefly hit 7-year high
* Spreadbetters expect slightly lower start for Europe
* Samsung Electronics up as rival Apple hit by security concerns
* Investors look for hint of more easing from ECB
By Hideyuki Sano and Shinichi Saoshiro
TOKYO, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Asian shares steadied near seven-year highs on Thursday, underpinned by hopes of a ceasefire in Ukraine, although a cautious mood prevailed for now ahead of a European Central Bank meeting later in the session.
Spreadbetters expected a generally lower start for Europe, forecasting Britain’s FTSE would open flat, Germany’s DAX down as much as 0.1 percent and France’s CAX down 0.2 percent.
“Despite crossed fingers that the ECB will start up the printing presses and signs that Putin has had his fill in Ukraine, both have a history of disappointing,” Jonathan Sudaria, a dealer at Capital Spreads, said in a note to clients.
Global shares had rallied on Wednesday when Russian President Vladimir Putin, after speaking to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko by phone, said he believed Kiev and pro-Russian separatists could reach agreement at talks in Minsk on Friday.
While Poroshenko also indicated the conversation with Putin had injected some momentum into efforts to end the Ukraine conflict, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk dismissed the plan as a “deception”.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan eased 0.1 percent on Thursday after a brief rise to a seven-year high while Japan’s Nikkei average shed 0.3 percent from seven-month highs the previous day.
“There’s no definite lead coming out of the United States. Investors are a bit cautious about geopolitical tensions,” said Tony Russell, senior equities adviser at RBS Morgans Reynolds Equities.
The S&P 500 ended down 0.1 percent on Wednesday and the Nasdaq Composite lost 0.6 percent, underperforming many other markets.
U.S. shares were dragged down by a fall in Apple, which was hit by concerns over a possible security breach of its iCloud service a week before the launch of its new iPhone and as rival Samsung Electronics Co Ltd launched a new product.
“I suspect hedge funds have started to unwind their long-Apple, short-Samsung positions ahead of the announcement of the new iPhone,” said Norihiro Fujito, a senior strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.
Samsung Electronics rose 1.8 percent, helping to lift Seoul’s Kospi 0.2 percent.
The euro traded at $1.3147, little changed in Asia but off a one-year low of $1.3110 hit on Tuesday.
With the European economy taking the brunt of tit-for-tat sanctions between the West and Russia, hopes of a ceasefire in Ukraine helped the common European currency.
In the near term, the euro could see more short-covering, given heavy selling in recent weeks on speculation the ECB could start an asset-purchase programme soon.
While the ECB is unlikely to take action on Thursday, any hint from President Mario Draghi that the bank is readying such a programme could drive down the euro.
The Bank of Japan maintained its policy on Thursday, leaving its massive stimulus programme unchanged. The Bank of England also meets and is expected to leave policy alone.
The dollar traded at 104.82 yen to the dollar, off Wednesday’s eight-month high of 105.31.
Sterling hit a seven-month low of $1.6440 on Wednesday and last stood at $1.6458, not helped by jitters Scotland may vote to break up the United Kingdom in a referendum on Sept. 18. (Additional reporting by Swati Pandey in Sydney; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Alan Raybould)