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Asian shares mixed, Fed meeting in focus


Asian markets were mixed on Wednesday, with Tokyo again hit by a strengthening yen, in the final hours before investors find out the US Federal Reserve's plans for its stimulus programme.

Traders have remained cautious ahead of the bank announcement, although most economists are confident it will indicate the $85-billion-a-month bond-buying will remain in place for the time being.

Tokyo slipped 0.82 percent as exporters were hurt by dollar selling owing to the likelihood the Fed will continue pumping markets with cash to support the economy.

Seoul was 0.10 percent lower but Hong Kong added 0.13 percent and Shanghai was 0.73 percent higher, while Sydney climbed 0.79 percent on expectations the Australian central bank will cut interest rates next month.

Concerns about the future of the so-called quantitative easing has led to fluctuations in global markets in recent months as it has kept interest rates down, in turn providing cheap cash for dealers to invest.

But Fed chief Ben Bernanke last month reiterated the bank's intent to only wind down the scheme when the US economy is able to stand on its own two feet.

Those comments eased some concerns, but the prospect of more dollars sloshing around the financial system has weighed on the currency.

In early Asian trade the greenback fetched 98.03 yen, compared with 98.02 yen in New York Tuesday.

The euro fetched $1.3262 and 129.99 yen, against $1.3264 and 130.02 yen. The single currency has enjoyed some measure of support over the past few weeks -- it hit a one-month high $1.3302 at one point in New York Tuesday -- amid signs the eurozone economy is finally picking up and could even move out of recession.

Asian equities were given a soft lead from Wall Street, where the Dow and S&P 500 were flat and the Nasdaq edged up 0.48 percent.

Weaker-than-forecast US consumer sentiment figures offset an upbeat report on home prices.

The Conference Board's consumer confidence index fell to 80.3 in July from 82.1 in June, while the S&P/Case-Shiller index of home prices in the 20 largest US cities rose 12.2 percent year on year in May.

On oil markets New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate for delivery in September, was up four cents at $103.12 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for September fell 12 cents to $106.79.

Gold cost $1,333.95 per ounce at 0210 GMT, compared with $1,323.50 late Tuesday.