Asian shares rose on Wednesday, with Japan's Nikkei maintaining a fourth quarter rally as investors hunted bargains in one of the developed world's cheapest markets, but Australia's main index lagged as bad weather hit shares in mining heavyweights.

The dollar was steady after a sharp reversal against the euro in an erratic previous session, while the Swiss franc held near a record high against both the dollar and the euro as investors sought refuge from euro zone debt.

A weaker dollar had lifted demand for commodities priced in the U.S. currency, and London Metal Exchange copper rose to a record $9,437.50 a tonne on Wednesday, boosted also by a stoppage at a key port in major producer Chile.

Copper's strength failed to support mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton , which both fell more than 1 percent as heavy rain disrupted mining and shipping operations. China's Christmas Day interest rate rise also prompted investors to fret about weaker demand for industrial metals, but analysts said the impact was likely to be short-lived.

The Chinese rate rise was key but it appears it is more about curbing inflation and demand for base metals will not fall sharply, said Ben Potter, research analyst at IG Markets.

Tokyo's Nikkei <.N225> rose 0.5 percent, despite the stronger yen that hurt some big exporters such as Canon Inc <7751.T>. The Nikkei has risen nearly 10 percent in the final quarter of 2010, although it is down 2 percent for the year.

With shares trading around 1.1 times book value, Japan remains one of the cheapest developed markets after debt-hit Ireland, Greece and Italy.

There is no solid reason to sell Japanese shares actively as the outlook for the market is still bright, said Mitsushige Akino, chief fund manager at Ichiyoshi Investment Management.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> was also up 0.5 percent and has risen more than 13 percent this year. Australia's benchmark <.AXJO> underperformed the region to end flat as the big miners weighed.

Australia's Lynas Corp , which owns the richest known deposit of rare earth outside China, rose 10.8 percent after China, which produces 97 percent of the minerals, cut it export quotas. Rival Arafura rose 11.1 percent.


U.S. shares eked out gains on Tuesday on strength in oil majors such as Chevron and Exxon Mobil , although downbeat consumer confidence data kept gains in check. The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> gained 0.2 percent and the broader S&P 500 <.SPX> was up 0.1 percent.

Foreign exchange trading was typically choppy in thin year-end trade, when light volumes can cause exaggerated moves from modest flows of funds.

A spike in U.S. Treasury yields boosted the allure of the U.S. currency, with the dollar index <.DXY>, which measures its performance against a basket of major currencies, steady around 80.3, off an overnight low of 79.596.

The market is not driven by factors, but the thin conditions mean there could be more volatile moves, said a trader at a Japanese bank.

The dollar bought around 82.30 yen, and the euro stood at $1.3130, after beating a rapid retreat from a two-week high around $1.3274 the previous day.

The slide in U.S. Treasuries prompted a similar retreat for Japanese government bonds, with March 10-year futures down 0.17 point and the 10-year yield up 3.0 basis points.

Oil eased a little on forecasts of warmer weather in the blizzard-hit northeastern United States, the world's biggest heating oil market. Benchmark U.S. crude futures fell 7 cents to $91.42 a barrel. The freezing weather had helped drive oil to a 26-month high at $91.88 on Monday.

Oil is tracking the cold weather in the northeast of the United States and also the dollar against the euro, said Tetsu Emori, a fund manager at Tokyo-based Astmax Co Ltd.

Spot gold traded around $1,406 per ounce, close to a two-week high of $1,406.75, as the lackluster U.S. data boosted its safe-haven appeal.

The U.S. economy outlook and monetary policy is a key factor that influences gold prices, said Hou Xinqiang, an analyst at Jinrui Futures in China. We've seen data alternate between good and bad, showing that the economy is recovering, but without a strong momentum yet.

(Editing by Tomasz Janowski)