Asian markets steady at start of 'Big Wednesday'

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Hong Kong (AFP)

Asia kicked off a huge day for global markets as investors await central bank announcements from Japan and the United States on what has been dubbed "Big Wednesday", with concerns that the years of cheap cash could be numbered.

The Bank of Japan is due to wrap up its policy meeting first but, despite a string of weak readings on the country's economy, traders are uncertain whether officials will unveil any fresh stimulus measures.

Also Wednesday, the BoJ plans to release an unprecedented report card on its monetary policy, with more than three years of easing unable to kickstart growth or inflation.

"We know that Japan spectacularly failed to achieve its goals when it cut into negative rates in January, and that's what caused this 'comprehensive review'," Greg McKenna, chief market analyst at FX and CFD provider AxiTrader, said.

Some experts think policymakers will expand its massive asset-buying scheme or cut interest rates deeper into negative territory.

But there are fears it is running out of government bonds that it can buy, while the first negative rate move was seen as a last throw of the dice by a desperate bank administration.

"There's some sort of additional measures likely coming from the BoJ and it would be a disappointment if there's none," Chris Green, Auckland-based director of economics and strategy at First NZ Capital Group, told Bloomberg News.

Later in the day the Federal Reserve will wind up its own policy meeting, which analysts are calling the biggest for years.

- Painful correction -

Global markets have suffered severe volatility in the weeks leading up to the gathering, with Fed officials issuing contradictory opinions on the need for a hike in interest rates.

While it is not expected to tighten policy this month, the policy board's statement will be pored over for clues about its plans for its next meeting in December, or January.

Talk of tight US rates and a lack of easing of late from other central banks has fuelled debate that the age of easy money -- which has helped fuel a rally on global markets -- could be ending, sparking fears of a painful correction.

Tokyo's Nikkei was down 0.4 percent, with news of an August trade deficit taking investors by surprise.

Hong Kong dipped 0.1 percent and Shanghai added 0.1 percent, while Sydney added 0.2 percent and Seoul gained 0.1 percent.

Singapore and Taipei were slightly lower while Wellington edged up.

Oil prices climbed for second day as traders await the release later in the day of US stockpiles data, while also having one eye on next week's meeting of top producers that will discuss a global supply glut and overproduction.

News that Libya had finally shipped its first cargo of crude from its Ras Lanouf port since 2014 had little immediate effect on prices. The shipment was meant to have left Sunday but was delayed by unrest.

"The amount of oil coming out of Libya is fairly limited so it won't have a material impact on crude prices today," OANDA senior market analyst Jeffrey Halley told AFP.

- Key figures around 0200 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.4 percent at 16,419.09 (break)

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.1 percent at 3,026.39

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.1 percent at 23,502.66

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1152 from $1.1151 late Tuesday

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 101.69 yen from 101.72 yen

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2999 from $1.2983

New York - DOW: UP 0.1 percent at 18,129.96 (close)

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.3 percent at 6,830.79 (close)