Asian shares higher on modest rebound in Japan

TOKYO - Shares held steady Wednesday as wary investors took heart from modest recoveries from sell-offs the day before, but there wasn't much bounce to the rebound.

European shares looked set for a slow start, weighed down by worries over corporate earnings.  Britain's FTSE 100 edged up 0.1 percent to 6454.10 and the CAC-40 in France barely budged at 4118.53. Germany's DAX fell 0.2 percent to 9,106.65.

The outlook for U.S. markets was wobbly, with Dow futures up 0.1 percent and S&P 500 futures down 0.03 percent.

Although markets stabilized after a 4.2 percent plunge in Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index to a four-month low, investors remain cautious, said Kwong Man Bun, chief operating officer at KGI Securities in Hong Kong.

"Rebound momentum is not significant," said Kwong. "Market sentiment remains cautious without a sustainable rebound, it's just a technical rebound after the heavy sell-off, but funding interest is limited."

The Nikkei rose 1.2 percent to 14,180.38 on Wednesday. It opened higher but surrendered some gains after the government reported that wage income remained at a record low in 2013.

Investors await U.S. jobs data due Friday and a policy meeting Thursday of the European Central Bank, which is under pressure to ease policy further to counter deflation.

"The capital markets are really in a watch-this-space mode right now," Chris Weston, chief market strategist for IG in Melbourne, Australia, wrote in a commentary Wednesday.

A key source of uncertainty is mainland China, whose markets remain closed for the Lunar New Year holiday until Friday.

But the region's second biggest market, Hong Kong, remained in negative territory. The Hang Seng fell 0.6 percent to 21,269.38 and shares in Taiwan also fell.

Elsewhere in Asia, shares rose in New Zealand, Indonesia, India, the Philippines and Thailand but fell in Australia.

In energy trading, benchmark U.S. crude for March delivery was up 53 cents at $97.72 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 76 cents to close at $97.19 on Tuesday.

The euro edged higher to $1.3522. The dollar fell to 101.29 yen from 101.57 yen late Tuesday.