GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian shares consolidate, global growth worry weighs
* MSCI Asia ex-Japan inches up, Nikkei opens higher
* Dollar, euro regain vs yen after two-day selling
* Investors cautious before China data due Friday
TOKYO, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Asian shares consolidated on Thursday as better-than-expected U.S. earnings lifted sentiment, but concerns over the global economic outlook and U.S. fiscal problem capped markets.
The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.2 percent after falling the past two sessions.
"Fourth-quarter earnings results for U.S. companies have been better than expected, lifting investor outlook. However, concerns over the fiscal slope continue to weigh, and the main board is expected to see choppy trading above the 1,950-mark," Kim Soon-young, an analyst at IBK Securities, referring to South Korean shares, which opened up 0.3 percent at 1,983.67.
Australian shares added 0.3 percent, led by the financials sector, but the market was capped by losses for miners after a big drop in iron ore prices on uncertainty over demand from China ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday.
World stock markets ended flat on Wednesday with the banking sector rising as earnings from Goldman Sachs nearly tripled and JPMorgan Chase's fourth-quarter net income jumped 53 percent and earnings for 2012 set a record.
But data showing demand for new cars in recession-bound Europe fell to a 17-year low in 2012 raised concerns about the global growth rate and weighed on sentiment. Worries were also apparent in global markets after the World Bank sharply cut its outlook for world growth this year to 2.4 percent from 3 percent, citing a slow recovery in developed nations.
The dollar and the euro regained ground against the yen early on Thursday, snapping two days of selling when investors took profits from these currencies' sharp and rapid rises against the Japanese currency since November.
Traders expect the yen to remain on a weakening trend amid expectations for bolder monetary easing measures from the Bank of Japan as part of the new government's push to drive Japan out of years of deflation and economic slump.
Japan's benchmark Nikkei average opened up 0.6 percent, after tumbling 2.6 percent for its largest daily decline in eight months on Wednesday. The Nikkei hit a 32-month high on Tuesday as the yen's slump to multi-year lows against the dollar and the euro bolstered exporters on improving earnings outlook.
The dollar rose 0.4 percent to 88.70 yen, off its peak since June 2010 of 89.67 touched on Monday, while the euro also climbed 0.3 percent to 117.81 yen, after surging to its highest since May 2011 of 120.13 yen on Monday.
Australian employment numbers due at 0030 GMT were expected to show no jobs growth and a higher unemployment rate of 5.4 percent. Any unexpected weakness in the report could see markets price in a bigger chance of an interest rate cut next month.
The data precedes a slew of economic reports from China which are due on Friday, including fourth-quarter GDP, December industrial output, retail sales and house price, offering investors clues on the health of Asia's biggest economy and global growth prospects.
In the United States, the Federal Reserve's latest Beige Book, a collection of anecdotes on regional economic conditions, showed mild growth across the U.S. in recent weeks but no signs that economic expansion will accelerate, while U.S. consumer prices barely grew in December.
In the credit default swap market, the five-year cost to insure against a U.S. default rose to 44 basis points on Wednesday, the highest since August 2011 during the first debt ceiling battle between U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican lawmakers.
The euro steadied around $1.3287 against the dollar, after reaching an 11-month high of $1.3404 on Monday, and was also barely moved against the Swiss franc at 1.2375, after touching a 13-month high of 1.2413 francs on Tuesday.
U.S. crude eased 0.1 percent to $94.15 a barrel.
Oil prices rose on Wednesday after an Algerian gas field came under attack from Islamist militants and as data showed crude stocks fell in the United States last week.