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Asian shares slip, Microsoft's brisk earnings boost tech sector

01/26/2021 | 10:44pm

* Ex-Japan Asia down 0.3%, slim gains seen in Japan, Korea, Taiwan

* Investors expect Fed to keep dovish stance

* Microsoft shares up 4% after strong earnings

TOKYO/NEW YORK, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Asian equities slipped on Wednesday as investors looked to the Federal Reserve's guidance on its monetary policy while futures for U.S. tech shares jumped after strong earnings from Microsoft.

MSCI's gauge of Asian ex-Japan shares slipped 0.3%, dragged lower by profit-taking in resource shares as some investors have grown wary of stretched valuations.

But Japan's Nikkei rose 0.2% and the region's tech-heavy markets, such as South Korea and Taiwan eked out small gains, helped by 0.5% rises in Nasdaq futures after Microsoft's brisk quarterly results.

Microsoft shares rose 4% in extended trading after its Azure cloud computing services grew more 50%. The results boosted optimism for other U.S. tech giants, including Apple and Facebook, which announce quarterly results later in the day.

"Microsoft's earnings were superb, even compared with strong market expectations," said Norihiro Fujito, chief investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

"Those tech firm shares have been in a bit of the doldrums since August but they are likely to lead the market again, given their solid outlook," he said.

At their peak in August, the combined market capitalisation of the top five biggest U.S. tech companies, which also include Amazon and Alphabet, reached 24.6% of the U.S. blue chip S&P500 index. It stood at 22.7%, still well above 15% two years ago.

S&P500 futures were mostly flat, capped by caution ahead of the Fed's policy meeting as well as profit-taking on cyclical shares after stellar gains this month.

The S&P500 is now trading at 22.7 times its expected earnings, near its September peak of 23.1 times, which was its most inflated level since the dotcom bubble in 2000.

The U.S. Federal Reserve is due to announce results of its two-day policy meeting on Wednesday. Analysts expect the Fed to stick to its dovish tone to help speed the economic recovery.

U.S. stimulus talks are also in focus with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer saying Democrats will move forward on President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan without Republican support if necessary.

Benchmark 10-year notes were yielding 1.040%, having hit a three-week low of 1.028% on Tuesday on rising speculation Biden may have to scale back and possibly delay his ambitious stimulus plan.

The U.S. dollar was little moved as investors awaited the Fed's decision for clues on whether they should buy riskier currencies.

The dollar index flirted with this week's low at 90.211, while the euro held firm at $1.2162.

Sterling rose 0.1% to $1.3735, its highest level since May 2018 while the Japanese yen edged back slightly to 103.71 per dollar after a small gain the previous day.

The Australian dollar was little changed at $0.7744 , showing muted response to stronger-than-expected local inflation data.

Oil prices were supported by economic optimism, with U.S. crude futures trading up 0.3% at $52.79 per barrel.

The International Monetary Fund raised its forecast for global growth in 2021, as widely expected, and many investors expect the global economic recovery from the pandemic-driven downturn to continue.

(Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Sam Holmes)

© Reuters 2021
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