Asia shares rise, euro steadies as Fed starts two-day meeting on interest rates

Investors checking share price data at a stock brokerage in Taipei, Taiwan, on Jan 26, 2015. Asian shares moved higher on Tuesday and the euro clung to rare gains, relieved that European markets had weathered Greece's election outcome without much di
Investors checking share price data at a stock brokerage in Taipei, Taiwan, on Jan 26, 2015. Asian shares moved higher on Tuesday and the euro clung to rare gains, relieved that European markets had weathered Greece's election outcome without much disruption. -- PHOTO: EPA

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian shares moved higher on Tuesday and the euro clung to rare gains, relieved that European markets had weathered Greece's election outcome without much disruption.

Bad weather in the United States curbed activity on Wall Street in a busy week for earnings, while investors had reason for caution as the Federal Reserve holds its first policy meeting of the year.

Japan's Nikkei firmed 1.2 per cent in early trade, while Australia main index added 0.4 per cent. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan edged ahead by 0.1 per cent.

On Wall Street, the Dow had ended Monday up a bare 0.03 per cent, while the S&P 500 gained 0.26 per cent and the Nasdaq 0.29 per cent.

A blizzard engulfing New York is expected to keep many investment banks and fund managers on skeleton staff, though the main exchanges all plan to open as usual on Tuesday.

Around 30 per cent of S&P500 companies report earnings this week, including tech heavyweights Microsoft, Apple, and Google.

Of the 96 companies that have reported so far, 66 have topped forecasts, 18 disappointed and 12 were in line with estimates.

The U.S. Federal Reserve starts a two-day policy meeting on Tuesday and investors are keen to hear its take on the rash of policy easings from the euro zone to Canada and Switzerland.

The general assumption is the Fed will acknowledge the uncertain global outlook and stick to its promise to be patient on tightening. Yet its timetable remains for lift-off on rates by mid-year, a trajectory that presages further broad-based gains for the US dollar.

The dollar was near an 11-year peak against a basket of major currencies at 94.925 having risen 11 per cent in just the past three months.

It also nudged up to 118.58 yen, but lost a little ground on the euro to US$1.1235 after reaching another 11-year top of US$1.1098.

The Fed is hardly alone in meeting this week, with policy decisions awaited from Hungary, Thailand, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Africa, Mexico, Colombia and Russia.

In Europe, Greek left-wing leader Alexis Tsipras was sworn in on Monday as the prime minister of a new hardline, anti-bailout government determined to face down international lenders and end nearly five years of austerity.

Tsipras quickly sealed a coalition deal with the Independent Greeks party which also opposes Greece's EU/IMF aid programme.

The initial reaction in markets was modest by recent standards. Greek stocks fell 3 per cent, led lower by bank stocks including Piraeus Bank which fell 17.6 per cent. Greek 10-year bond yields rose, but stayed below the levels seen in the run-up to the vote.

The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares ended 0.13 per cent higher and close to a seven-year high.