TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares inched up on Wednesday but the upside was limited as investors waited warily for corporate earnings season to kick off in full force, preferring in the meantime to book profits from a sharp rally at the start of the year.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.1 percent.
Australian shares rose 0.2 percent, breaking a three-day losing streak as top banks and supermarkets rose ahead of data expected to show retail sales recovered some strength before Christmas.
South Korean shares opened up 0.2 percent. Tech heavyweight Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS) launched the local earnings season on Tuesday by announcing a better-than-expected estimated fourth-quarter operating profit.
"The main index is seen rangebound after steadily declining since last week's rapid gains as caution rules before fourth-quarter earnings," Kim Soon-young, an analyst at IBK Securities, said of Seoul shares.
Global shares fell and bond prices rose on Tuesday, with investors cautious ahead of a U.S. earnings season expected to show sluggish growth in quarterly corporate profits.
U.S. earnings season began on Tuesday with Alcoa Inc (AA.N), the largest aluminium producer in the U.S., reporting a fourth-quarter profit of $242 million, in line with expectations. Investors tend to scrutinize Alcoa's results to gauge overall economic health as the company's aluminium products are used in the automotive, appliance and airline industries.
U.S. corporate profits are expected to be higher than the third quarter's lacklustre results, but analysts' estimates are down sharply from where they were in October.
Japan's benchmark Nikkei stock average opened down 1 percent, hit by the yen's pause from its steady fall over the past two months which sent it down about 12 percent against the dollar. The Nikkei had risen about 21 percent in the same period.
YEN CORRECTION CONTINUES
The dollar was down 0.2 percent to 86.88 yen, after scaling its highest since July 2010 at 88.48 on Friday. The euro slipped 0.5 percent to 113.67 yen, having last week hit 115.995 yen, its highest since July 2011.
Expectations of much bolder monetary easing from the Bank of Japan to help Japan beat deflation under new Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have encouraged investors to sell the yen.
But as trading resumed from year-end holidays, analysts and traders said markets were ripe for position adjustments.
"After a good run in risk assets since December, we entered in a phase of consolidation which is moving from Japanese equities to short JPY positions," said Sebastien Galy, FX strategist at Societe Generale in New York, in a note, adding that the dollar could consolidate to 85 yen but must first take out the first Fibonacci retracement at 85.75 yen.
Yen crosses which had been bought the most, including the yen/Korean won, are the most exposed to the correction.
"Such a washout in JPY crosses is the opportunity many long-term investors will be waiting for to continue their switch into strategic short yen positions. It will be little comfort for those funds that were late at the JPY short position," he said.
The euro held steady against the dollar at $1.3082.
With no significant economic data this week, the euro was seen staying in a range ahead of Thursday's European Central Bank policy meeting and Spanish and Italian bond auctions toward the end of the week.
Euro zone business confidence improved again in December, but unemployment hit a record and households held back from spending in the run-up to Christmas. German industrial orders also fell more than forecast due to a sharp drop in demand from abroad.
U.S. crude was nearly flat at $93.19 a barrel.
Sentiment was also cautious in Asian credit markets, with the spread on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment-grade index barely moved from Tuesday.
(Additional reporting by Joyce Lee in Seoul; Editing by Eric Meijer)