Most Asian share markets struggled for traction on Tuesday, but Japan's Nikkei hit a fresh 9-month high and Australian stocks rose as hopes of a sustained recovery for the rich world encouraged investors to switch funds from emerging to developed markets.
The euro edged up from a two-week low plumbed after surprising weak German industrial orders data, but fading expectations of a near-term eurozone interest rate rise stopped the single currency from pushing too much higher.
U.S. S&P 500 futures were flat. Merger activity drove U.S. stocks to two-and-half year highs on Monday, when the Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> and broader S&P 500 <.SPX> both rose 0.6 percent. <.N>
Market players in Tokyo said better-than-expected earnings reports from U.S. and Japanese companies have accelerated a shift of money out of inflation-dogged emerging markets and into developed markets with loose monetary policies and more subdued price pressures. <.T>
The performance of all emerging markets, including Brazil, India, Indonesia and China, has been very weak this year and the shift of market focus to developed economies with lower inflationary risk is helping Tokyo stocks, said Norihiro Fujito, a senior investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.
Data from Lipper last week showed a record $4.1 billion outflow from emerging market equity funds in the week to February 2.
Despite sluggish economic growth and persistent deflation, Japan has been the best performing Asian market so far in 2011, with year-to-date gains of around 4 percent.
The Nikkei <.N225> rose 0.4 percent, but MSCI's index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> eased 0.2 percent, led by a 1 percent decline for the tech sector, with markets in Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and India in negative territory.
Australian shares <.AXJO> rose 0.5 percent as positive earnings from National Australia Bank lifted the top four lenders, but shares in investment bank Macquarie fell 0.3 percent after it lowered its full-year profit guidance.
Shares in National Australia Bank, the country's top lender, gained 1.9 percent on the back of a forecast-beating 18 percent rise in first-quarter cash profit.
Every time they come out with a result that says basic operations have done reasonably well and conditions are all tracking in the right direction, you get a steady decrease in the perceptions of risk that go with NAB, said Angus Gluskie, chief investment officer at White Funds Management.
CENTRAL BANK BUYING
The euro rose to around $1.3625, having fallen to $1.3508 on Monday. Some traders were wary of more buying by Asian central banks, which had helped push the single currency higher in the previous session.
I think that's the train of thought market players have, because they have been intervening constantly, said a trader at a major Japanese bank in Singapore.
The euro has retreated from a 12-week high of $1.3862 since European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet last week doused expectations of an imminent interest rate rise, saying inflation in the eurozone would remain contained.
I think the euro will be supported, but it will need a dose of hawkishness from the European Central Bank to rise, said Koji Fukaya, chief FX strategist at Credit Suisse in Tokyo.
The dollar was steady against the yen around 82.30, capped by selling by Japanese exporters at 82.50 yen and above.
U.S. crude oil futures were almost unchanged at $87.49 a barrel, as concerns about unrest in Egypt affecting global supplies eased and as investors turned their attention to rising U.S. inventories. Brent crude futures edged up to $99.37.
There's pressure for crude oil prices to go down, said Ken Hasegawa, a commodity derivatives manager at Japan's Newedge brokerage. Fundamentally, I don't think crude oil supplies are tight. The market needs a correction, and now is the time.
Gold was a touch higher at $1,351.30 an ounce, well below the record high around $1,430 scaled in December and under pressure from rising global stock markets that encouraged investors to switch funds from the safe haven metal into riskier assets.