Japan stocks hit 15-year high, oil down as Yemen bombing ends

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese shares hit a new 15-year high on Wednesday on expectations of positive corporate earnings, while oil sagged after Saudi Arabia ended its military campaign in Yemen, easing tensions in the energy-rich Middle East.

Japan's Nikkei rose 0.7 per cent to a high not seen since April 2000. South Korea's Kospi gained 0.4 per cent, while Australian shares slipped.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.2 per cent after rising 0.8 per cent the previous day.

Asian equities have found support from Chinese measures to spur lending and combat a slowing economy. On Sunday, China's central bank cut the reserve requirement ratio for the country's lenders in the second reduction in two months.

U.S. stocks were mixed overnight, with the Dow slipping on uninspiring earnings reports while the Nasdaq closed near a record high following a proposed biotech merger.

In currencies, the euro held steady at US$1.0738 after a choppy session overnight that took it between US$1.0660 and US$1.0782.

The common currency had been buffeted this week by worries cash-strapped Greece may default on its debt. The euro found some respite after euro zone finance ministers moved away from fixing a deadline for Athens to come up with fiscal reforms.

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis cited signs of convergence on Tuesday between Greece and its lenders to help the euro, although the market remained cautious.

"The chance that any meaningful progress will be made is still extremely slim especially since the Germans refuse to release additional bailout funds without a credible reform plan from Greece," Kathy Lien, Managing Director of FX Strategy for BK Asset Management, said in a note.

The U.S. dollar was little changed at 119.65 yen after gaining 0.4 per cent overnight.

The Australian dollar was firm at US$0.7711 after three straight days of losses amid lingering prospects of the Reserve Bank of Australian easing monetary policy again sooner or later.

The Aussie's weakness brought it closer to parity with the New Zealand dollar.

In commodities, crude oil extended losses after Saudi Arabia's announcement that it would end its three-week operation against Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen eased tensions in the Middle East.

Brent crude was down 0.3 per cent at US$61.92 a barrel after tumbling more than 2 per cent overnight.