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Asian shares end on mixed note

Asian markets were mixed on Wednesday as the Bank of Japan announced it was standing pat on its stimulus programme, even as its policymakers revised down growth expectations for the world's number three economy.

HONG KONG: Asian markets were mixed on Wednesday as the Bank of Japan (BoJ) announced it was standing pat on its stimulus programme, even as its policymakers revised down growth expectations for the world's number three economy.

Tokyo's Nikkei edged up 0.11 per cent, or 15.88 points, to finish at 14,304.11. 

In line with jittery investors' expectations, the BoJ announced on Wednesday that it was holding fire on expanding its massive asset-purchase scheme as it awaits the effects of a sales tax rise at the start of April.

But after Japanese markets closed, the central bank announced that it had lowered its growth expectations for the current fiscal year, fuelling hopes for fresh stimulus measures later in the year.

Hong Kong sank 1.42 per cent, or 319.92 points, to end at 22,133.97, while Seoul slipped 0.15 per cent, or 2.98 points, to close at 1,961.79.

Shanghai added 0.30 per cent, or 6.02 points, to 2,026.36 on the last day of the week's trading before a public holiday. Sydney was flat, nudging up 2.5 points to 5,489.1.

Analysts said Japan would likely be forced to ramp up its monetary easing at some point to counter a downturn.

"While the Bank of Japan left policy settings unchanged today, we still think more easing will be announced in the second half of the year," said Marcel Thieliant, an economist at London-based Capital Economics.

BoJ policymakers, in their closely-watched semi-annual outlook gauging the median of members' views, predicted that Japan's economy would grow 1.1 per cent in the year to March, owing to tepid data and a sales tax rise introduced on April 1, which has fuelled fears about the nation's recovery.

The prediction marks a downgrade from a previous forecast of 1.4 percent.

However, its view that inflation would come in at 1.3 per cent over the same time period was unchanged.

On foreign exchange markets, the dollar rose against the yen on expectations of further BoJ easing. In the afternoon, the greenback bought 102.56 yen compared with 102.64 late in New York, but well up from the 102.17 yen on Monday in Tokyo when the Nikkei was last open.

The euro fetched US$1.3823 and 141.77 yen, against US$1.3811 and 141.75 yen in New York on Tuesday.

In New York trade, the Dow and S&P 500 enjoyed a second-straight pick-up after last week's sell-off, despite a mixed bag of corporate earnings and economic data. The Dow rose 0.53 per cent, the S&P 500 added 0.48 per cent and the Nasdaq gained 0.72 per cent.

Later Wednesday, the US Federal Reserve will complete its own policy meeting, with observers tipping a further cut in its multi-billion-dollar asset-purchase scheme as the economy continues to show signs of improving.

In addition, Washington will release its initial estimates of gross domestic product growth for the first three months of the year, which saw a severe winter storm hit most of the country.

Other data due for release this week include manufacturing activity around the world and US non-farm payrolls, which will provide a clearer idea about the country's recovery.

Oil prices were down. New York's West Texas Intermediate for June delivery dropped 80 cents to US$100.48 in afternoon trade, and Brent North Sea crude for June eased 32 cents to US$108.66.

Gold fetched US$1,292.55 an ounce at 0950 GMT compared with US$1,290.38 on Tuesday.

In other markets, Kuala Lumpur inched up 0.65 per cent, or 12.18 points, to 1,871.52; Manila rose 1.08 per cent, or 71.46 points, to 6,707.91; Taipei fell 0.91 per cent, or 80.67 points, to 8,791.44; and Wellington jumped 1.64 per cent, or 84.39 points, to a record high of 5,232.68.

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