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* MSCI Asia ex-Japan steadies, Nikkei opens down 0.5 pct
* Dollar falls vs yen after sharp and rapid rise
* Alcoa kicks off U.S. earnings later on Tuesday
By Chikako Mogi
TOKYO, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Asian shares steadied on Tuesday
but prices were capped by investor caution ahead of corporate
earnings season for the last quarter of 2012 and the European
Central Bank's policy meeting later in the week.
U.S. stock prices retreated from five-year highs on Monday,
spurring selling of oil, gold and other risky investments and
reviving some safety bids for U.S. and German government debt.
U.S. earnings season unofficially kicks off when aluminium
maker Alcoa reports its results after Tuesday's market
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan
inched up 0.1 percent, after drifting lower the
previous session when investors took profits from the new year
rally, which lifted the index more than 2 percent in the first
week of 2013.
Australian shares were up 0.2 percent, near a
19-month high, with miners supported by firmer iron ore prices
and signs of improved growth in China.
China's annual economic growth may have quickened to 7.8
percent in the fourth quarter, a Reuters poll showed, snapping
seven straight quarters of weaker expansion, but the recovery is
likely to be tepid and the economy may need continued policy
support. The data is due out on Jan. 18.
South Korean shares opened down 0.4 percent, after
Samsung Electronics, the world's top maker of memory
chips and handsets, estimated its October-December operating
profit at a record 8.8 trillion won ($8.27 billion). Samsung's
guidance, coming ahead of full quarterly results by Jan. 25, was
in line with forecasts.
"Trading for the new year kicked off in full force yesterday
and it is natural for investors to start cautiously with profit
taking from the new year's rally," said Yuji Saito, director of
foreign exchange at Credit Agricole in Tokyo.
"I expect position adjustments to continue ahead of key
events such as the ECB meeting and earnings reports starting
with Alcoa," Saito said.
He said the euro could still push higher to around $1.3150
ahead of the ECB meeting.
Saito said the dollar may face selling pressure against the
yen, having scaled its highest since July 2010 at 88.48
on Friday, up about 7 percent over the past month. But he said
support was seen firm at 86.50 yen.
The dollar was down 0.5 percent to 87.32 on Tuesday.
Japan's benchmark Nikkei stock average opened 0.5
percent lower, after snapping a five-session winning streak on
Monday when a pause in the yen's weakness triggered
profit-taking on exporters.
The euro rose against the dollar on Monday on bets the ECB
might refrain from signalling more interest rate cuts when it
meets on Thursday. The single currency steadied around
$1.3121 early on Tuesday.
"With a lighter data schedule, investors are likely to focus
on the central bank communication this week. We look for
unchanged policy at the ECB governing council meeting on
Thursday." said Barclays Capital analysts in a research note.
U.S. crude inched up 0.1 percent to $93.28 a barrel.