Asian stocks hit an 11-month high on Tuesday before profit taking pulled them back, while the Australian dollar also pared gains after the country's central bank left interest rates unchanged but offered no clues on when tightening would begin.

Major European stock futures were down 0.3 percent and U.S. equity futures off 0.4 percent, after the FTSEurofirst 300 index and the S&P 500 index both closed at nine-month highs on Monday.

The Reserve Bank of Australia shifted away from its rate cutting bias and expressed more optimism on the economy, but stopped short of indicating a need to eventually raise rates, disappointing investors with bets on the Australian currency.

Still the market backdrop remained positive, and corporate results have been inspiring optimism, adding fuel to a rally that is into its fifth month.

Shares of HSBC <0005.HK>, Europe's largest lender, climbed 7 percent after the company said after Hong Kong's market closed on Monday that first-half profits were cut in half compared with a year ago but still beat analysts' forecasts, spurring a wave of brokerage upgrades.

We're seeing a lot of positive factors -- good U.S. indicators and solid Japanese earnings, both of which are boosting the Nikkei. But right now we're also seeing a bit of natural reaction to these rises, said Masayuki Kubota, a senior fund manager at Daiwa SB Investments in Tokyo.

Japan's Nikkei share average <.N225> edged up 0.2 percent to a 10-month high, driven by technology-related stocks. After the close, Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T> posted its third straight quarterly loss, but gave an improved outlook based on deep cost reductions.

The MSCI index of Asia Pacific stocks outside Japan was largely unchanged by midafternoon after earlier hitting its highest level since early September. The materials sector outperformed by a wide margin, up 1.5 percent.

Since March 9, when a global equity market rally began, the index has risen 75 percent, leading the world. Valuations have been ticking higher and earnings outlooks are uncertain, but so far investors have been comfortable paying what they view as a growth premium.

On a 12-month forward basis, the Asia Pacific index is trading at around 14.8 times earnings, up from 10.9 times on March 9 but still below the last bull market peak of 16 times, according to global estimates tracker Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.


Asia's economies, especially in China and South Korea, were among the first in the world to show results of stimulus spending. However, the U.S. economy has also indicated growing momentum, emboldening investors to shift more money out of cash and into higher-yielding assets.

U.S. auto sales in July were a 2009 high, thanks largely to a Cash for Clunkers government program that offered a handout to trade in older, less fuel-efficient cars. In addition, a U.S. manufacturing gauge showed much less contraction in the sector than expected in July.

The Australian dollar was up 0.1 percent to US$0.8423 in a volatile session. The currency rose to an intraday high around $0.8470 after sequential growth in second quarter Australian retail sales and housing prices exceeded forecasts, though cut its gains after the RBA statement.

The RBA has removed the explicit easing bias but replaced it with a tightening bias so weak it is almost not recognizable as one. It was certainly not as hawkish as some had been advertising, said Rory Robertson, interest rate strategist with Macquarie in Sydney.

The ICE Futures U.S. dollar index <.DXY>, a measure of the currency's value against a basket of six major currencies, was little changed after earlier touching a 10-month low. Sentiment was negative after the index dropped through major chart support overnight.

Government bonds remained under pressure from growing appetite for risk, despite the equity market's intraday volatility.

The 10-year Australian treasury bond future dipped 0.03 point after earlier falling to the lowest since early October, while the 10-year Japanese government bond future sagged 0.12 point to the lowest in more than a month.

U.S. Treasuries were largely unchanged in both the cash and futures market.

Oil prices also fell on profit taking after a three-day rally helped crude clear $70 a barrel. U.S. light crude for September delivery was down 0.7 percent to $71.10, and Brent was off 0.35 percent to $73.29.

(Additional reporting by Aiko Hayashi in TOKYO)

(Editing by Kim Coghill)