Tokyo - Asian shares rose on Wednesday but the euro was capped as investors concluded a European summit this week will fail to take concrete action to resolve the eurozone debt crisis, with Germany staunchly opposed to sharing the region's debt burden.
The dollar retreated from earlier highs against a basket of major currencies while commodities eased in choppy trade, reflecting reluctance by investors to place bets in either direction before the June 28-29 summit in Brussels.
"With expectations so low for any breakthroughs from the summit, it's hard to take any aggressive positions either way," said Tetsu Emori, a Tokyo-based commodities fund manager at Astmax Investments.
"But panic-selling momentum has clearly receded, suggesting more investors are looking for prices to pick up given that many asset classes have fallen to levels that could be snapped up quickly if fund managers started pouring money in again," he said.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.9%, driven higher mostly by short covering and bargain hunting after recent pullbacks. Japan's Nikkei average edged up 0.4%.
Chinese shares outperformed their Asian peers, with the Hang Seng Index jumping more than 1% on strength in the Chinese consumer sector spurred by jeweller Chow Tai Fook's better-than-expected annual earnings and on gains in the banking sector.
A report that Beijing will promote further development of the offshore yuan market in Hong Kong as part of a new package of policies for the territory ahead of the fifteenth anniversary of its return to China on July 1 also helped.
"Investors are moving to reduce some of their bearish bets ahead of the European leaders meeting. But I suspect in Hong Kong, there are also some expectations there could be more goodies nearer July 1," said Hong Hao, Bank of Communications (BoComm) International Securities' Hong Kong-based chief strategist.
European shares were likely to rise, with spreadbetters predicting major European markets would open up as much as 0.6%. US stock futures were nearly flat.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy on Tuesday released a report on a closer fiscal and banking union, envisaging a eurozone treasury that would issue common debt in the medium term.
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel squashed the idea of common eurozone bonds, saying Europe would not share total debt liability "as long as I live".
A change in Germany's stance is widely seen by markets as pivotal to turning around the bearish sentiment, so her comments further convinced investors that the Brussels summit was likely to disappoint. The summit will be the 20th time EU leaders have met to try to resolve a crisis that has spread across Europe since it began in Greece in early 2010.
Gold at juncture?
US crude futures were nearly flat at $79.33 a barrel and Brent crude fell 0.3% to $92.75.
London copper eased 0.1% at $7 348.50 a tonne while gold inched down 0.1% at $1 570.34 an ounce.
Gold has come under pressure on worries about deflation, with a global economic slowdown triggered by a worsening debt crisis in Europe eroding its appeal as an inflation hedge and prompting investors to turn to another safety asset, the US dollar.
"We could see some more selling, maybe, but I think the $1 550 level should hold. I don't really expect it to go down to $1 500," Yuichi Ikemizu, branch manager for Standard Bank in Tokyo.
The yellow metal looked technically weak, having stayed under the 55-, 100- and 200-day moving averages since around mid-March, unable to sustain any rally.
A weak euro has also dented appetite for gold, which typically rises when the dollar weakens against the euro.
The euro held around $1.2500, off its lowest against the dollar in more than two weeks of $1.2441 hit on Tuesday, while the dollar index measured against a basket of key currencies was nearly flat around 82.346.
Summit offers no "magic" solution
Nervous investors pushed Spanish short-term borrowing rates to their highest in more than six months on Tuesday and yields on Italy's new two-year paper to a new high since December. Italy will sell six-month bills on Wednesday and face a more challenging offer of five- and 10-year debt on Thursday.
"This seems consistent with our 'muddle through' scenario in which no magic solution is likely to come from the upcoming summit, forcing troubled governments to push through reforms and austerity, as Germany continues to resist the fiscal transfers needed to place euro area in a solid recovery path," Barclays Capital analysts in a research note.
Asian credit markets firmed slightly, with the spread on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment-grade index narrowing by 3 basis points.