Global Markets: Asian shares off highs, US Federal reserves' stance underpins Asian stock markets

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SummaryAsian shares took a breather from recent rallies on Thursday.

Global markets: Asian stock markets took a breather from recent rallies on Thursday though sentiment was underpinned by the U.S. Federal Reserve's pledge to retain its stimulus policy and on signs of stabilisation in the euro zone.

Positive economic reports from Asia failed to lift Asian shares as investors continued to assess regional earnings results and ahead of key data such as China's official manufacturing PMI and U.S. monthly nonfarm payrolls on Friday.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.4 percent after rising 1.3 percent over the past two sessions to nearly an 18-month high. The index was set for a monthly gain of about 2.4 percent.

Australian shares eased 0.4 percent, taking a breather from their 10-day winning streak, the longest in more than nine years, which hoisted local shares to 21-month highs.

"Certainly 2013 has started with an air of optimism. U.S. politicians show some willingness to deal with problems, no fresh issues have emerged in Europe and the Chinese economy is exhibiting firmer growth. Volatility has receded with investors keen to put cash to work in other asset classes," said Craig James, a strategist at CommSec in Sydney.

Southeast Asian stock markets were generally softer but remained near their highs. The Philippines hit a record high for the third day running on Wednesday and Thailand's market surged to a more than 18-year high on Wednesday.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday kept in place its monthly $85 billion bond-buying stimulus plan, arguing the support was needed to lower unemployment.

Underscoring the Fed's cautious view, data on Wednesday showed the U.S. economy unexpectedly contracted in the fourth quarter. Still, a lot of that weakness came from a plunge in defense spending, suggesting the underlying fundamentals were not as bad as the headline figures indicated.

In Asia, the data on Thursday provided cause for optimism. Taiwan raised its economic growth forecast for 2013, after the fourth quarter expanded faster than expected and posted its best growth in five quarters on improved demand for the island's electronics exports and stronger consumption.

"Taiwan's economic growth will be better this year as Europe's outlook is becoming positive, it will have a bigger rebound as an export-oriented economy," said Scott Chen, economist at Sinopac Commercial Bank in Taipei.

The Philippines said on Thursday its economy grew 1.5 percent in the December quarter from the previous three months, better than market forecasts.

YEN OFF LOWS

Japan's benchmark Nikkei stock average shed

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