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Asia Shares Mixed, Fed Stance Underpins Markets

Asian shares took a breather from recent rallies on Thursday though sentiment was underpinned by the U.S. Federal Reserve's pledge to retain its stimulus policy and on signs of stabilization in the euro zone.

Positive economic reports from Asia failed to lift markets as investors continued to assess regional earnings results and ahead of key data such as China's official manufacturing PMI and U.S. monthly nonfarm payrolls on Friday.

Japan's Nikkei share average edged up, posting its best January in 15 years as gains in the banking sector lifted sentiment, offsetting gloomy earnings from such bellwether companies like Nintendo.

The Nikkei rose 0.2 percent to a new 33-month high of 11,138.66 points and posted a 7.2 percent gain this month, its strongest January performance since 1998 after rallying 22.9 percent in 2012. The broader Topix gained 0.6 percent to 940.25.

South Korean shares inched down after two days of gains in cautious trading ahead of U.S. monthly nonfarm payroll data on Friday.

Automakers rebounded after the South Korean won eased and rival Toyota Motor announced recalls of more than 1 million vehicles globally.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index ended down 0.1 percent at 1,961.94 points, posting a monthly loss of 1.8 percent in January.

Caution over stalled U.S. economic growth pulled Australian shares down 0.4 percent, breaking a 10-day sequence of gains, the market's longest winning streak in more than nine years.

Australian miners and retailers were lower, pulling the market down from 21-month highs after a 5.3 percent gain in January.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index fell 18 points to 4,878.8, according to the latest data.

Still, broker CommSec revised up its forecasts for the Australian share market in 2013, projecting the S&P/ASX 200 index will rise to 5,300 points by the year-end, with an annual gain of 14 percent.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index rose 0.1 percent to 4,252.647, its highest since October 2007 on improved risk appetite, amid signs the local economy is picking up.

Supermarket operator Woolworths fell 1.3 percent to A$31.24 after it reported a 2.5 percent rise in second-quarter same-store food and liquor sales, missing forecasts for a 2.8 percent rise, according to a Reuters survey of seven analysts.

China shares finished January on a mixed note, with the property sector weakened by a news report that the Beijing city government has submitted property tax plans to the State Council for approval.

The CSI300 of the top Shanghai and Shenzhen A-share listings slipped 0.1 percent on the day, but climbed 6.5 percent on the month. The Shanghai Composite Index ended up 0.1 percent on Thursday and 5.1 percent in January.

Hong Kong shares slipped from a 21-month high, trimming January's gains, as investors turned cautious following a batch of profit warnings and knocked the benchmark index off its most overbought levels in almost a month.

The Hang Seng Index closed down 0.4 percent on the day, but up 4.7 percent on the month at 23,729.5. The China Enterprises Index of the top Chinese listings in Hong Kong shed 0.3 percent on Thursday, but rose 6.1 percent in January.

The Chinese steel and shipping sectors dominated the more than 10 profit warnings posted by Hong Kong-listed companies overnight, sending those shares into a tailspin. More than 70 large steel mills, slumped 98 percent to 1.6 billion yuan ($257.2 million).

Hengdeli, China's top luxury watch distributor, reversed midday losses to end up 0.7 percent on Thursday after a company statement reiterating no material changes in its business operations. On Wednesday, the stock plunged 13 percent following a report in Hong Kong-based Next magazine raising questions about its operations.

China's January official purchasing managers index (PMI) on Friday is likely to show manufacturing activity in the world's second-largest economy expanded at its fastest pace in nine months.

In Southeast Asia, Singapore's Straits Times slipped 0.2 percent, while Malaysia's KLCI traded flat.