Asian marts flat, awaiting Fed outlook

SYDNEY: Asian markets settled in for a session of consolidation on Tuesday as investors waited to hear the new head of the US Federal Reserve's outlook for the economy and policy, with most expecting a reaffirmation of the status quo.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen gives her first testimony before the House Financial Services Committee at 1500 GMT, and will likely face questions on the state of the labour market and the future pace of tapering.

In the meantime, market moves were marginal with the dollar and stocks a shade softer, and activity extra light due to a holiday in Japan.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was just a fraction lower, as was Australia's main index.

On Wall Street, the Dow eked out a 0.05 per cent gain, while the SandP 500 added 0.16 per cent.

Share values have been supported by solid earnings. With about 69 per cent of the SandP 500 having reported, 68 per cent have topped profit expectations, above the long-term average.

MSCI's all-country equity index rose 0.26 per cent on Monday, while the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 closed up 0.08 per cent.

Currencies were confined to well-worn ranges, though the dollar was softer overall. The dollar index, which measures the greenback against six major currencies, last traded down 0.06 per cent at 80.643.

The dollar also faded back to 102.24 yen from a top at 102.65, while the euro inched up to US$1.3645.

Yellen appears before the Republican-controlled House of Representatives Financial Services Committee on Tuesday and the Democrat-controlled Senate Banking Committee on Thursday.

Analysts generally assume Yellen will stick with the script and reiterate that the Fed will continue to scale back its asset buying, as long as the economy improves as expected.

"The testimony is likely to be more theatre than economics," said Marshall Gittler, head of global FX strategy at online trader IronFx Global.

"Yellen will probably try to remain polite and give upbeat, optimistic answers that will play well on TV. In that respect her testimony may present a favourable picture of the US economy that could boost the dollar." - Reuters