Asia markets subdued by Greek uncertainty

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian markets got off to a cautious start on Wednesday as looming euro zone meetings over Greece overshadowed a firmer finish on Wall Street.

Euro zone finance ministers meet later on Wednesday and EU leaders on Thursday, but officials are already downplaying the chance of a breakthrough.

Activity was also thinned by a holiday in Tokyo, leaving MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan off a slight 0.2 per cent.

Australia's main index edged up 0.2 per cent encouraged in part by a survey showing consumer confidence had surged to 13-month peaks in the wake of last week's cut in domestic interest rates.

The Dow had ended up 0.79 per cent, while the S&P 500 gained 1.07 per cent and the Nasdaq 1.3 per cent.

Apple Inc became the first U.S. company worth more than US$700 billion as its shares rose 1.9 per cent after it priced Swiss franc bonds.

Microsoft also priced a new issue of bonds that starkly illustrated the desperate search for yield amongst investors in a low inflation world.

The tech giant's sale of US$10.75 billion of debt was easily its largest ever, but drew orders for no less than US$39 billion. Among the six tranches on offer, it was able to borrow money for 40 years at just 4 perc ent.

Treasuries had a tougher time amid growing talk the Federal Reserve could start raising interest rates by mid-year. Yields on 10-year notes were hovering at 1.99 per cent having touched a four-week peak of 2.016 per cent.

The rise in yields helped lift the dollar to 119.40 yen , having climbed as high as 119.62 overnight. The dollar index was up 0.3 per cent at 94.737.

The euro struggled to find direction amid all the brinkmanship over Greece and last stood at US$1.1315.

While markets are eager to assume a last minute deal will be hammered out given the dire consequences otherwise, the situation is incredibly fluid with each new headline seemingly contradicting the former.

Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, for instance, flagged the possibility that the country might get help from outside the EU if a deal was not forthcoming. "It could be the United States at best, it could be Russia, it could be China or other countries," he said.

In commodity markets, U.S. crude futures bounced 75 cents to US$50.77 a barrel on news of a smaller-than-expected rise in crude inventories.

Brent crude had yet to start trading having fallen US$1.91 on Tuesday to US$56.43 a barrel.

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