Nikkei steady, optimism remains despite ugly earnings
A man looks at an electronic board displaying a fall in major market indices around the world outside a brokerage in Tokyo December 9, 2011. Reuters

Asian stock markets advanced Wednesday as signs of an improvement in the US housing market and better-than-expected quarterly earnings from corporate majors buoyed sentiment.

The Japanese benchmark Nikkei advanced 0.98 percent or 92.97 points to 9,561.01 and Chinese Shanghai rose 0.75 percent or 17.98 points to 2,406.81 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.17 percent.

The US new home sales, which measure the annualized number of new residential buildings that were sold during the previous month, declined to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 328,000 in March compared to an upwardly revised February rate of 353,000.

However, sales comfortably beat Reuter's estimation of 320,000 units and were up 7.5 percent compared to the annual rate of 305,000 in March 2011.

Meanwhile, firmer-than-expected second quarter earnings from Apple Inc. also boosted regional technology shares. The iPhone maker's second quarter profit nearly doubled on strong sales of its iPhones and iPad multimedia devices.

Apple earnings added to the good news, contributing to more than 82 percent of S&P 500 companies topping estimates so far for Q1 earnings, said a note from Credit Agricole.

Among technology shares, Apple's major competitor Samsung Electronics gained 1.71 percent and LG Electronics advanced 0.67 percent in Seoul while Advantest Corp. surged 2.91 percent in Tokyo and Foxconn International Holdings gained 2.46 percent in Hong Kong.

However, the gains were capped as market awaits the Fed meeting outcome. This is the second two-day meeting of the year and the committee will release the members' assessments of the appropriate timing and pace of policy changes via the Fed funds rate.

In Japan, exporter companies' shares gained on weaker yen. Fanuc Corp. gained 2.71 percent and Isuzu Motor gained 1.53 percent, while Toyota Motor advanced 0.61 percent.