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Asian markets higher ahead of BOJ meeting; Hong Kong off after WH Group scraps IPO

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BEIJING, China - Asian markets were mostly higher Wednesday as investors looked ahead to U.S. economic data and to central bank meetings in Washington and Tokyo.

Oil declined but stayed above $100 as markets shrugged off new sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index gained 0.2 per cent to 14,316.78 points as traders awaited a Bank of Japan meeting for signs of possible policy changes, though none was expected. China's benchmark Shanghai Composite Index added 0.2 per cent to 2,025.13. Seoul, Singapore, Jakarta and New Zealand also gained.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng tumbled 0.7 per cent to 22,300.11 after Chinese pork supplier WH Group, which bought U.S. producer Smithfield Foods last year, cancelled a planned multibillion-dollar initial public stock offering. It blamed weak investor demand and market volatility.

Investors also were looking ahead to the end of a two-day U.S. Federal Reserve policy meeting. The Fed was expected to stick to plans to reduce monthly bond purchases by $10 billion this month.

Also due out Wednesday were preliminary first-quarter figures on growth in the world's largest economy.

"U.S. growth is expected to show the smallest growth read in a year, but leading indicators remain mildly positive, meaning it is unlikely there will be any change" in Fed policy, strategist Evan Lucas of IG Markets said in a report.

Also out Thursday is Chinese manufacturing data for April.

Seoul's Kospi added 0.2 per cent to 1,968.20 despite concern nationwide grief over a ferry sinking that killed at least 204 people and left 100 missing might affect economic growth as people cancel trips and social events.

"The tourism and recreation sectors should have been hit the most, with the knock-on effects expected to spread to accommodation, transport and retail trade," said DBS Group in a report.

Sydney's S&P ASX 200 shed 0.4 per cent to 5,464.30, while Taiwan's Taiex declined 0.4 per cent to 8,837.71.

On Tuesday, markets shrugged off the European Union's release of the names of 15 new people targeted for sanctions for their roles in the Ukraine crisis. A day earlier, Washington broadened its sanctions to include seven Russian government officials and 17 companies with links to President Vladimir Putin.

Britain's FTSE 100 index closed up 1 per cent. Germany's DAX rose 1.5 per cent and the CAC-40 in France ended 0.8 per cent higher.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average climbed 0.5 per cent and the Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.4 per cent.

In energy markets, U.S. crude for June delivery declined 90 cents per barrel to $100.37 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract climbed above $101 on Monday, adding 44 cents to close at $101.28.

The dollar was off 0.2 per cent at 102.33 yen and the euro was flat at $1.381.

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