TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares steadied on Thursday following an overnight rise in global equities on early optimism about U.S. earnings, but investors remained cautious ahead of China's trade data and the European Central Bank meeting later in the day.
Global equities rose modestly on Wednesday after aluminium maker Alcoa Inc (AA.N) kickstarted the U.S. earnings season with a brighter outlook for global demand. U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill Inc followed with a four-fold increase in quarterly earnings on Wednesday.
The FTSEurofirst 300 ended at a 22-month closing high on Wednesday.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS was little changed.
Data for December is expected to show China's export growth rebounded from a three-month low, although the recovery is likely to be feeble as U.S. and European demand is still far below levels that would herald a convincing revival.
The Chinese data should also show the world's fastest-growing major economy missing its 10 percent target for trade growth in 2012. The trade balance is forecast at $19.7 billion.
If the figures fail to match forecasts, they could weigh on Australian shares and the Australian dollar.
"If at least $20 billion is not reached, the AUD may feel a little pressure not only based on the weakening Chinese data, but also resistance levels being experienced in the AUD/USD," said Neal Gilbert, market strategist at GFT Forex, in a note to clients.
Australian shares were down 0.2 percent ahead of the data from China, Australia's top customer.
South Korean shares opened 0.1 percent higher.
Japan's benchmark Nikkei stock average opened up 0.5 percent as the yen resumed its weakening trend after a pause in the last couple of sessions.
The dollar had risen about 12 percent over the past two months against the yen, contributing to the Nikkei's 22 percent jump in the same period, on expectations for bolder monetary easing from the Bank of Japan under Japan's new government.
The Japanese economy is expected to recover a little in 2013 if Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's policies of massive fiscal spending, aggressive monetary easing and a weaker yen produce the momentum needed to lift Japan from stubborn deflation.
The dollar rose 0.3 percent to 88.14 yen, inching closer to its highest since July 2010 at 88.48 reached on Friday. The euro was also up 0.3 percent to 115.09 yen. It last week hit 115.995 yen, its highest since July 2011.
ECB, SPANISH AUCTION AHEAD
The euro held steady against the dollar at $1.3055, ahead of the ECB's policy meeting, where the central bank is expected to keep interest rates steady. The Bank of England also holds its policy meeting later on Thursday.
Spain will test investor appetite for its debts when Madrid holds its first debt sales of 2013 later in the session. The Spanish auction could also offer clues on the timing of a much-anticipated request by the government for international financial aid.
Wariness over debt issues is not confined to the euro zone, with investors also watching U.S. debt ceiling negotiations after lawmakers narrowly avoided the fiscal cliff at the turn of the year.
Oil futures fell slightly on Wednesday after government data showed U.S. fuel stocks rose sharply last week, a sign of ample supply in the world's top consumer of oil. U.S. crude was up 0.1 percent at $93.19 a barrel early on Thursday.
(Editing by Shri Navaratnam)