Most Asian markets up, Tokyo at 15-year high

HONG KONG - Japanese shares hit a 15-year high Wednesday after the country recorded its first trade surplus in three years, while the euro weakened on growing concerns that Greece will not reach a bailout reform deal with its creditors.

With few catalysts to spur business in Asia, other markets were mostly higher despite a broadly negative lead from Wall Street.

Tokyo rallied 1.11 per cent, Hong Kong gained 0.12 per cent and Shanghai put on 0.26 per cent while Seoul added 0.72 per cent. Sydney slipped 0.58 per cent.

Tokyo's Nikkei broke back through the 20,000 point barrier - after briefly clearing the hurdle earlier this month - as the yen slipped against the dollar.

Before the market opened the finance ministry said March saw the country enjoy its first trade surplus since June 2012 thanks to tumbling oil prices and a boost in exports.

However, economists warned the positive results might not last.

"We expect the yen to weaken further in coming months, which should lift the cost of imports by more than the yen-value of exports," Marcel Thieliant at Capital Economics wrote in a commentary.

"The trade balance is unlikely to remain in surplus for long."

The dollar was at 119.68 yen against 119.63 yen in New York and well up from 119.44 yen in Tokyo earlier Tuesday.

The dollar's strength comes despite the diminishing likelihood of a US rate hike by the US Federal Reserve soon.

"More and more the expectation is that the Fed won't do anything soon. The momentum in equities is still there," Evan Lucas, a markets strategist at IG in Melbourne, told Bloomberg News.

The euro slipped as investors nervously follow events in Europe as Greece struggles to scrape cash together to pay its bills.

Athens is facing a backlash from the country's mayors after it issued a decree ordering them to hand over their reserves in order to service its debts and pay wages.

The government is locked in negotiations with its international creditors on unlocking some billions of euros in much-needed bailout funds. Failure to secure the cash will likely see it default and possibly crash out of the eurozone, which analysts fear could have global repercussions.

Greece's creditors sounded the alarm Saturday over the pace of debt negotiations, with European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi saying: "More work, much more work is needed now, and it's urgent."

The euro slipped to $1.0721 and 128.33 yen from $1.0735 and 128.42 yen in US trade.

On Wall Street the Dow fell 0.47 per cent and the S&P 500 slipped 0.15 per cent but the Nasdaq added 0.39 per cent.

The next focus for investors is the release Thursday of HSBC's preliminary report on activity in China's manufacturing sector, which will give the latest indication about the state of the world's number two economy.

Oil prices were lower. US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for May delivery fell 31 cents to $56.30 while Brent crude for June dipped 14 cents to $61.94.

Gold fetched $1,200.25 against $1,198.35 late Tuesday.