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Global stocks drift as Asia gains slightly, Europe weaker amid wait for US Fed signals

TOKYO - Asian stocks got a slight boost Wednesday from positive U.S. economic figures that reinforced expectations of eventual Fed rate hikes and a stronger dollar, while European markets drifted lower ahead of Federal Reserve minutes.

KEEPING SCORE: France's CAC 40 slipped 0.4 per cent to 4,237.27 and Germany's DAX lost 0.3 per cent to 9,302.28. Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.3 per cent to 9,758.86. U.S. shares were poised for declines with Dow futures dipping 0.1 per cent to 16,866. S&P 500 futures were down 0.1 per cent to 1,974.70.

ASIA'S DAY: Hong Kong's Hang Seng was up 0.2 per cent at 25,159.76 while Japan's Nikkei 225 was little changed at 15,454.45. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.2 per cent at 5,634.60 while Southeast Asian markets advanced. Taiwan's Taiex rose 0.5 per cent to 9,288.05 while Seoul's Kospi added nearly 0.1 per cent to 2,072.78.

US OUTLOOK: Signs that inflation is in control in the U.S., as well as fairly positive earnings reports and other indicators of a healthy economy, are helping Asian shares. Recent data on housing has reassured regional markets that the U.S. growth is on a relatively solid track. Also helping Asian shares are positive news from Home Depot, the largest U.S. home improvement retailer, which raised its annual profit forecast after reporting strong earnings results.

FEDERAL RESERVE: It's unclear when the U.S. Federal Reserve will start raising interest rates but many analysts predict sometime in 2015. That could be a plus for countries such as Japan, where giant exporter have much to gain from a strong dollar. Eyes are on the release of minutes Wednesday from the last Fed policy meeting and a speech later in the week by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen.

ANALYST TAKE: "Traders will turn their attention to the FOMC minutes later tonight, recalling a less-hawkish-than-expected minutes in July, which led to a sell-off in the dollar," said Desmond Chua, market analyst with CMC Markets in Singapore. Traders were also expecting to get more of a clue about when the first interest rate hike might come, he added.

CURRENCIES. The dollar has surged recently to 103 yen levels, and was trading at 103.26 yen, up from 102.95 yen late Tuesday. The euro fell to $1.3291 from $1.3322.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude for September delivery was up $1.46 at $95.94 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It dropped sharply Tuesday and was down nearly 4 per cent for August due to ample supplies. The September contract expires Wednesday. The more actively traded October contract was up 25 cents at $93.09 a barrel.

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Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

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