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Asia stocks up amid caution

May 18 2011 09:16 Reuters

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Singapore - Asia shares rose from a six-week low on Wednesday, led by consumer stocks, but disappointing US data have made some investors reluctant to follow commodity prices higher, containing a bounce in risky assets from currencies to oil.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei average was up 1.1% and MSCI's index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.8 percent. Korea stocks rose 1.59%, lifted by automakers and shipbuilders.

European shares were expected to rise on Wednesday, taking Asia's lead and bouncing from four-week lows. Britain's FTSE 100 , Germany's DAX and France's CAC 40 were seen putting on between 0.7% and 0.9%, according to financial spreadbetters.

The main Wall Street indices ended flat to 0.6% lower on Tuesday after falling as much as 1%, weighed by soft economic data, including a slump in home building, and a lower outlook from tech heavyweight Hewlett-Packard Co.

US factory output slipped for the first time in 10 months in April as a shortage of parts from Japan crimped activity and home building slumped, showing the economy got off to a weak start in the second quarter.

Signs of lacklustre economic activity were also evident in declining sales at Wal-Mart Stores , and the cut in 2011 profit forecast by Hewlett-Packard.

"As long as investors remain jittery about US economic growth, investment in Japanese manufacturers may be subdued," said Yutaka Miura, a senior technical analyst at Mizuho Securities.

London copper firmed on Wednesday, but analysts said gains may be capped as disappointing US data raised more doubts about the global economic recovery.

But amid the U.S. slowdown, the state of the housing market, a big copper user, comes as no surprise, especially after tornadoes lashed parts of the country last month. Home construction only accounts for about 2.2% of US GDP.

"On a day-to-day basis, it is almost impossible to predict market movements," said Khiem Do, chairman of the Asia multi-asset team at Barings Asset Management in Hong Kong.

"The US is going through a period of consolidation, but it's still growing. It's not going back to recession, it's just a deceleration. There's nothing too big to worry about."

The euro was steady against the dollar at $1.4274 after recovering from recent lows, but wariness over sovereign debt problems in Europe made investors nervous about piling up euro positions, although traders said signs of clarity in the issue may prompt some buying back of the single currency.

"I feel that the euro-zone debt issue has stabilised slightly for the near term after European finance ministers approved a loan scheme for Portugal, prompting buying back of the euro," said Teppei Ino, a currency analyst at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ.

Europe's top financial officials broke a taboo on Tuesday and acknowledged for the first time that Greece may have to restructure its debts, a move which could stoke Europe's sovereign debt crisis. 

The US dollar index , a measure of the US dollar against a basket of currencies, was off 0.31%.

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