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Asia shares cheered as China growth pips forecasts


[SYDNEY] Asian markets rallied in relief on Tuesday after China reported its economy had not slowed as far as many had feared, a rare glint of brightness amid gloom over the global outlook.

The Australian dollar rose on the news even as its US counterpart gained broadly, while shares in Shanghai recouped some of Monday's steep losses.

Beijing reported the world's second largest economy grew 7.3 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year, fractionally above forecasts of 7.2 per cent and steady on the third quarter. Figures on December retail sales and industrial production also beat estimates.

The news helped soothe investors skittish after the major Chinese share indices tumbled on Monday when regulators cracked down on speculative lending.

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The Shanghai Composite Index bounced 1.8 per cent while the CSI300 index added 1.1 per cent.

Markets were higher across most of the region led by a 1.5 per cent gain in the Nikkei as the yen slipped and the Bank of Japan began a two-day policy meeting that should see it reaffirm its massive bond-buying campaign.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan edged up 0.3 per cent, while South Korea's main index rose 0.8 percent.

ECB European shares had fared better on Monday amid intense speculation the European Central Bank will this week extend asset purchases to euro zone sovereign bonds, giving it greater scope to expand its balance sheet.

A Reuters poll of money market traders found the median expectation was for a package worth 600 billion euros, though most also felt that would not be enough to bring inflation up to target.

Indeed, many in the market would prefer an initial target of at least 1 trillion euros or, even better, an open ended commitment to buy as much as necessary to get inflation higher.

Still, the prospect of any action from the ECB was enough to lift Germany's main index to an historic high while the FTSEurofirst index of 300 leading European shares hit a seven-year peak.

Spain's 10-year government bond yield hit a new low of 1.47 per cent and Italy's benchmark yield fell as low as 1.62 per cent.

The euro recovered just a little ground on the US dollar after hitting an 11-year low last week, to stand at US$1.1588 . The common currency made more progress on the Swiss franc to reach 1.0179 francs, but that follows a 17 per cent plunge last week.

The dollar was generally well bid, rising to 118.27 yen and to 92.769 against a basket of currencies.

There were further ripples from the Swiss decision to un-peg the franc with Denmark surprising by cutting interest rates further into negative territory on Monday.

The move was aimed at preventing a rise in the Norwegian crown against the beleaguered euro, and other central banks in peripheral Europe will be under pressure to follow.

In commodity markets, oil's long decline showed no sign of stopping with the latest blow coming as Iraq announced record production of the fuel.

Brent crude was quoted down 4 cents at US$48.80 a barrel, while US benchmark crude was trading down US$1.24 at $47.45 a barrel.

Spot gold was firmer at US$1,277.64 an ounce, not far from a September peak of US$1,281.50 reached on Friday.