By Wayne Cole
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian shares struggled to sustain the slimmest of rallies on Wednesday as a hesitant performance by the Japanese market fuelled fresh demand for safety in the yen and top-rated bonds.
Dealers had cautioned that the mood remained brittle and it would only take a poor U.S. payrolls report on Friday to set the bears running again.
The ADP reading on private hiring is due later on Wednesday and any disappointment will be taken badly by investors.
The strain was clearly taking a toll with the Nikkei rising, falling, then rising again to be up 1.1 percent at 14,163. It never even got close to testing resistance at the 200-day moving average of 14,425, while there remains a large gap to fill between Monday's close and Tuesday's opening.
The index has shed 14 percent since the start of the year following last year's 50 percent boom.
The faltering performance was all the more disappointing as some major corporate names reported upbeat earnings. Panasonic Corp <6752.T> jumped 17 percent after its quarterly earnings more than tripled, while Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T> rose 5 percent after predicting record annual profits.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan swung to a 0.3 percent loss, while South Korea could only eke out a gain of 0.4 percent.
On Wall Street, the Dow had ended Tuesday up 0.47 percent, while the S&P 500 added 0.76 percent. But stock futures were trading lower on Wednesday with the S&P e-mini contract off 0.3 percent.
The underwhelming bounce in the Nikkei led investors to again bid up the safe haven yen, with the dollar easing to 101.46 yen from an early top of 101.77.
The euro eased a touch to $1.3510, still dogged by speculation that the threat of deflation might nudge the European Central Bank into easing policy at its meeting on Thursday.
The major mover in currencies was the Australian dollar which surged after the country's central bank on Tuesday shut the door on further rate cuts, citing a pick-up in housing and consumption and higher than expected inflation.
The Aussie was enjoying the view at $0.8890 after climbing a steep 2 percent overnight. It also rallied sharply on the euro and yen as speculators were forced to cut short positions in what had been a very crowded trade.
The New Zealand dollar got its own boost when jobs data showed strong employment growth for the fourth quarter of last year, adding to the already considerable case for a hike in interest rates.
The reluctance to take risks led to demand for U.S. Treasuries, with the 10-year yield ticking down to 2.61 percent, not far from the recent three-month lows at 2.57 percent.
Gold failed to get much of a boost and remained sluggish at $1,252.89 an ounce.
In commodities, prices for wheat were boosted by dry weather and declining crop conditions in the United States, while soymeal and corn were in high demand.
Broad gains in grains and natural gas lifted the Thomson Reuters/Core Commodity Index 1 percent, the biggest one-day gain in nearly a month.
U.S. oil futures rose on bets on a reduced stockpile at a key delivery point due to the start-up of a major pipeline. The March NYMEX contract added 44 cents to $97.63 a barrel, while Brent crude rose 22 cents to $106.00.
(Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Eric Meijer)
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