China, Japan's shares clinch new highs ahead of Fed

Stock indexes in Japan and China settled at new multi-year highs for the second straight session on Wednesday as investors awaited the Federal Reserve's statement that could shed light on the timing of an interest rate hike.

The Federal Open Market Committee's (FOMC) two-day meeting kicked off Tuesday, with the highly anticipated post-meeting statement and press conference expected later today. Investors are monitoring whether or not the word "patient" remains in the text as an indication of when short-term interest rates might go up.

Overnight, U.S. stocks were mostly lower, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 closing down 0.7 and 0.3 percent, respectively. The tech-heavy Nasdaq inched up 0.2 percent.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
NIKKEI
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HSI
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ASX 200
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SHANGHAI
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KOSPI
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CNBC 100
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Nikkei rises 0.6%

Japan's Nikkei 225 index erased losses to settle at a fresh 15-year high of 19,544, with the help of Nintendo and DeNA, which soared by the daily maximum allowable of 21 percent each, after both companies announced plans to jointly develop game applications.

Nintendo-related shares also got a boost; Mitsumi Electric and Hosiden surged more than 10 percent each. Bank of Kyoto, which is the second-biggest shareholder of the gamemaker, also rocketed 21 percent.

Sony rallied more than 5 percent after revising its third-quarter profit on Tuesday. The electronics giant said its official operating profit for the third quarter was 182 billion yen (about $1.5 billion), up 2.2 percent from the estimate it reported last month.

On the domestic data front, Japanese exports rose 2.4 percent last month due to a fall in shipments to China, according to data from the Ministry of Finance early Wednesday, a slowdown from a 17.0 percent on-year rise in January.

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Mainland indices up

China's Shanghai Composite continued its upswing, rocketing 2.1 percent to finish at a fresh seven-year high as a widening fall in February's new home prices fueled hopes of further stimulus. Home prices eased 5.7 percent year-on-year last month, more than the 5.1 percent drop in January.

"The property market will have to [stop] being a drag in order [for China] to hit the 7 percent growth target this year. This will require further monetary accommodation," ING analysts wrote in a note. "We remain of the view that the People's Bank of China (PBoC) will deliver another 25-basis-point cut in policy interest rates in each of the last three quarters of 2015."

Mainland developers were buoyant on Wednesday, with China Merchants Property and Poly Real Estate up 4.7 and 5.1 percent each. Among the top gainers, CSR and China CNR elevated by the daily limit of 10 percent each, while China Everbright Bank bumped up 9.3 percent after the lender said it is mulling a spin-off of its wealth management unit.

Meanwhile, the yuan hit its highest level since mid-January against the U.S. dollar. It last traded at 6.2334 per dollar.

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In Hong Kong, CK Hutchison Holdings leaped 1 percent in its first day of trading. The new company is the product of a reshuffle in the property assets of Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing and replaces the old Cheung Kong Holdings, which were suspended on March 10.

Solar stocks also helped the broader Hang Seng index to finish at a more than one-week high. Shunfeng International and GCL-Poly Energy rose 8.6 and 6 percent each, boosted by reports that China plans to revise up its solar-generating capacity target this year.

ASX flat

Australia's S&P ASX 200 index recouped earlier losses to finish unchanged as some of the index heavyweights turned positive. Rio Tinto, which was hurt by iron ore prices dwindling to six-year lows in the morning session, rebounded 0.7 percent, while Westpac closed up 0.4 percent.

However, a 5.3 percent slump in shares of Fortescue Metals weighed on the resource-heavy bourse. The miner had scrapped a $2.5 billion high-yield bond issue announced on Tuesday.

Oil-related counters were also stung by declining commodity prices; Santos and Oil Search lost more than 1 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, Orica slumped 5.3 percent on news that its CEO Ian Smith will be stepping down.

Outperforming the bourse was the country's biggest construction materials and building products group Boral, whose shares shot up 1.7 percent after announcing a share buyback program for up to 5 percent of the company's issued capital.

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Kospi flat

South Korea's Kospi index finished a whisker below the flatline after wavering between gains and losses following data that showed a rise in the country's jobless number. Released before the market open, South Korea's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for February came in at 3.9 percent, higher than the 3.4 percent in the preceding month.

Carmakers Hyundai Motor and its smaller affiliate Kia Motors pared gains late Wednesday as news that their February sales grew at a lower-than-market average pace in Europe took hold. A combined 2.3 percent drop in in energy plays like SK Innovation and S-Oil also brought the index lower.

AK Holdings, the holding firm of budget carrier Jeju Air, extended losses into a second day after Singapore Airlines confirmed yesterday that it is in talks to take a stake in the South Korean low-cost carrier. Shares of AK tanked 3.6 percent.

STI slips 0.2%

Singapore's Straits Times index drifted lower on the back of news that the health condition of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding father, has deteriorated further. The Singapore dollar hovered near its lowest level since July 2010 to trade at 1.3895 per dollar.

CNBC's Evelyn Cheng contributed to this market report