Asian stocks rose on Wednesday on signs that the European Union may rescue debt-strapped Greece, coaxing nervous investors back to riskier assets, but uncertainty over the plan weighed on the euro.
Major European shares <.FSTE> were expected to open higher for a third day, on hopes for Greece, though U.S. stock futures were marginally lower.
Deteriorating confidence in the ability of Greece, Portugal and Spain to finance growing fiscal shortfalls has spooked financial markets for weeks and knocked the euro to its lowest since May 2009, just below $1.36.
European governments have agreed in principle to help Greece, German coalition sources told Reuters on Tuesday. However, a German government spokesman dampened hopes by saying a decision had not yet been reached.
But caution prevailed. Even if the EU pulls Greece from the fire, it was not clear if the rescue would prevent investors from concentrating on the next weak link in the euro zone, or if growing debt problems in Europe in general would start to impede a global economic recovery.
Certainly there are reports about support for Greece, but nothing concrete has been decided. So while downward pressure has definitely decreased, there's still no real reason to buy, said Hideyuki Ishiguro, a strategist at Okasan Securities in Tokyo.
Following gains of more than 1 percent on Wall Street, Japan's Nikkei share average <.N225> ended up 0.3 percent.
Earlier gains were cut after Honda Motor Co <7267.T> expanded a recall of cars globally to replace an airbag part, hard on the heels of a rapidly expanding and increasingly embarrassing recall by Toyota Motor Co <7203.T> over numerous safety issues.
Toyota's huge recall may not be the end of the nightmarish start of the year for the world's biggest car maker. U.S. regulators said overnight they are reviewing complaints of steering problems in newer Toyota Corolla models.
Shares of Toyota, which have lost about a fifth of their value since late January, edged up 0.4 percent, while Honda fell 1.6 percent.
The MSCI index of Asian stocks traded outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> was up 0.6 percent, with the materials sector leading the way after gains in metal and commodities prices overnight.
China posted solid import and export figures for January, keeping its growth trajectory stable while only mildly adding to pressure to allow the yuan to appreciate.
The numbers supported continued allocation by foreign investors to Asian assets.
Overall growth rates across the Asian region continue to move higher and we have no reason to disagree as the medium to long-term growth drivers in this region have much more potential than in the debt-burdened West, said Sarah Arkle, chief investment officer for Threadneedle in London, in a note.
EURO FALTERS DESPITE GREECE NEWS
In the currency market, the euro fell 0.4 percent to $1.3746, after soaring to a high around $1.3840 overnight on hopes the EU will hammer out a package soon for Greece.
The longer it takes for confirmation of a bailout, however, the more sceptics of a quick solution to Europe's fiscal problems will look to buy dollars against developed currencies.
Against the yen, the euro was down 0.2 percent to 123.32 yen.
U.S. oil futures were down 0.3 percent to $73.50 a barrel after an industry group said U.S. crude stockpiles rose more than forecast last week.
The Reuters-Jefferies CRB index of commodities <.CRB> rebounded 1.4 percent on Tuesday, on weakness in the U.S. dollar, after hitting a four-month low on Friday.
(Additional reporting by Elaine Lies in TOKYO)