Asia stocks hit 9½-year high, markets await BOJ, ECB meetings

SINGAPORE (REUTERS) - Asian shares scaled near-decade peak on Thursday (July 20), bolstered by a surge in global stocks to a record high on strong US corporate earnings, while investors awaited the Japanese and European central bank meetings for clues on their policy outlooks.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan added 0.15 per cent, hovering near its highest level since December 2007.

Japan's Nikkei gained 0.1 per cent. Australian stocks rose 0.3 per cent and South Korea's KOSPI advanced 0.15 per cent.

The MSCI World index rose for its 10th straight session on Thursday and set a record high for the sixth consecutive day, lifted by all-time closing highs on Wall Street on strong earnings reports.

"In the US, the earnings season seems to be surprising a little bit on the upside," said Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at Key Private Bank in Cleveland. "What we have seen recently in the economic reports suggests it should be even better overseas... So we have come to the point where things look pretty good in the US and it looks even better in prospect overseas, so what's not to like about equities," he said.

The yen was marginally stronger at 111.83 to the US dollar early on Thursday.

The Bank of Japan ends its two-day policy meeting on Thursday and is expected to paint a brighter picture of the economy but cut its inflation forecasts again. It is set to keep policy unchanged and reinforce that it will lag well behind major global central banks in scaling back its massive stimulus programme.

The euro was up about 0.1 per cent at US$1.1528 early on Thursday, after scaling a 14-month high this week following seemingly hawkish comments by European Central Bank President Mario Draghi.

At Thursday's meeting, the central bank may drop a reference to its readiness to increase the size or duration of its asset-purchase programme before announcing in the autumn how and when it will start winding down its bond buying.

"The euro has surged enormously on the back of hopes that the ECB is going to start the process of shutting the door on loose monetary policy," Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at ThinkMarkets UK, wrote in a note. "The ECB needs to be clear about its forward guidance and it should reinforce that in a subtle manner. Coming out of the gates too aggressively would create shock waves in the market."

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of trade-weighted peers, was steady at 94.762.

The Australian dollar revisited Wednesday's two-year high early on Thursday, still heady from the minutes of the last Reserve Bank of Australia meeting, released Tuesday, which showed the central bank had turned more upbeat on the economic outlook.

The Canadian dollar was flat on Thursday at C$1.2601 to the dollar. On Wednesday, it touched a 14-month high on record domestic factory sales and higher oil prices.

Oil prices, which hit a two-week peak on Wednesday on a bigger-than-expected weekly draw in crude and gasoline inventories in the US, were marginally lower early on Thursday.

US crude fell less than 0.1 per cent to US$47.10 a barrel, after jumping 1.6 per cent overnight.

Gold rose about 0.1 per cent to US$1,241.06 an ounce on Thursday.