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Written by: Staff
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SINGAPORE, Apr 19 (Reuters) Asian shares charged higher on Wednesday, propelled by exporters, after U.S. stocks had their best gains in a year as investors turned optimistic that an improved interest rate outlook would outweigh oil price concerns.

U.S. crude oil futures slid 35 cents but held near the record $71.60 a barrel set on Tuesday, while gold extended its rise, holding just below a new 25-year peak of $624.40 an ounce.

The dollar hit a seven-month low against the euro, extending losses made after minutes of the U.S. Federal Reserve's March meeting suggested the central bank was close to ending a two-year run of raising interest rates.

''The immediate trigger was the Fed's minutes, but sentiment has already been bearish for the dollar in recent weeks,'' said Tatsuro Karitani, senior trader at Mizuho Corporate Bank, who also cited concerns about tension over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Benchmark indexes in South Korea, Australia and Singapore climbed to all-time records, helping to lift the MSCI's index of non-Japan Asian shares 1.5 percent by 0245 GMT.

Technology, financial, mining and consumer products sectors all showed strong gains.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei average ended the morning session up 0.8 percent.

Among the gainers was Sony Corp. whose shares gained 1.9 percent, in line with other tech firms following strong quarterly results from U.S. blue chips after the market close, including International Business Machines Corp., Yahoo Inc., and Texas Instruments Inc.

Fujitsu Ltd. rose 2 percent after it said late on Tuesday it is likely to beat its net profit target for the fiscal year ended last month.

FOCUS ON FED MINUTES U.S. stocks were jolted higher by minutes from the last Federal Reserve meeting that signalled the rate increase campaign may be near an end. The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 1.76 percent to 11,268.77, while the Nasdaq added 1.95 percent.

The minutes from the March 27-28 policy meeting said: ''Most members thought that the end of the tightening process was likely to be near, and some expressed concerns about the dangers of tightening too much, given the lags in the effects of policy.'' The market still expects another rise at the next meeting in May, but the minutes reduced the prospects for a further tightening beyond that, traders said.

In Asian trading hours, the euro bought $1.2365 just off a seven-month high of $1.2368 hit earlier in the session, and the dollar traded at 116.80 yen down from around 117.05 yen in late New York trade and off nearly a full yen from the late levels in Tokyo on Tuesday.

Japanese government bond prices rose, recovering from a wave of selling on Tuesday, after the Fed minutes and strong auction demand.

The yield on the benchmark cash bond slipped 1.5 basis points to 1.945 percent. Market participants said Tuesday's jump to the key 2 percent level had triggered a spate of dip buying.

ASIA STOCKS RALLY Australia's share index was up 0.9 percent after setting a new high of 5,301.8 on continued strength in mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto AX> ''The underlying strength in commodities could prompt some earnings upgrades in the resources side of the market,'' said Eric Betts, head of strategy at Nomura Australia.

South Korea's main index also set a new peak and was up 1.6 percent ahead of earnings later in the day from LG Electronics Inc., the world's fourth-biggest mobile phone maker, and Samsung Securities Co.

Singapore joined the record-setters, with technology and financial stocks helping to push the index more than 1 percent higher.

Hong Kong's index set a new 5-and-a-half year high and Taiwan's index climbed to a 25-month peak.

Spot gold traded as high as $624.40 an ounce and was fetching $623.15/$623.65 at 0226 GMT.

''We're seeing strong support among buyers across the spectrum,'' a dealer said, noting institutional fund purchases showed no sign of waning.

REUTERS CS HS0916

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