By Ian Chua
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian stocks stalled on Wednesday after nine days of gains, while investors gave the safe-haven yen a wide berth on growing optimism for the Chinese economy and receding worries about U.S. military strikes on Syria.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slipped 0.1 percent, having earlier hit a fresh three-month high. It has gained nearly 3 percent so far this week and was up more than 8 percent in two weeks.
E-Trade Securities analyst Choi Kwang-hyeok said some investors were choosing to book profits ahead of next week's Federal Reserve meeting that could see the U.S. central bank begin to scale back its massive stimulus campaign.
"The week ahead contains cues that could change foreign capital flows," he said.
Tokyo's Nikkei outperformed thanks to a weaker yen, which tends to boost demand for exporters such as Toyota <7203.T>. The Nikkei closed flat after reversing earlier gains.
European stocks were seen slightly firmer with financial spreadbetters expecting Germany's DAX to open up as much as 0.3 percent.
The recent rally in Asian stocks partly reflected a rebound in emerging markets as a string of upbeat Chinese data bolstered investor confidence -- even as the Fed looked set to begin withdrawing support.
Indeed, MSCI's emerging equities index has jumped 9 percent in two weeks, cutting its annual loss to around 6 percent from as deep as 17 percent. It was down 0.3 percent on Wednesday.
Analysts at Credit Agricole said the selloff for emerging markets is probably not over yet, but expected pressure to moderate as U.S. yields increased at a less frantic pace, with the Fed most likely to taper very gradually.
"Also, the recovery in developed markets may support emerging markets (EM) exports and, in turn, EM domestic investment to some extent," the analysts said in a report.
Investors had been bailing out of emerging markets en masse as they positioned for less support from the Fed, although last Friday's disappointing U.S. jobs data convinced many economists that any withdrawal will probably be very gradual.
Diminishing worries about potential U.S. military strikes on Syria had further helped sharpen investor appetite for emerging markets assets.
President Barack Obama pledged on Tuesday to explore a diplomatic plan from Russia to take away Syria's chemical weapons, raising the chances of putting off the limited military strike that he is considering.
This improved sentiment can clearly be seen in the Australian dollar, which is usually used as a liquid proxy for Asia's emerging markets. It has rallied 4.7 percent to $0.9307 from the August 28 trough of $0.8891. The Aussie was a touch softer on Wednesday at $0.9287.
Currency investors shunned the yen, which is further depressed by the Bank of Japan's own massive stimulus programme. Unlike the Fed, the BOJ is expected to maintain ultra-loose policy for some time yet.
The dollar scaled a seven-week peak of 100.55 yen, while the euro touched a 16-week high around 133.37.
Against the dollar, the common currency reached a two-week high of $1.3282 before slipping back to $1.3247.
Oil recovered a bit of ground with Brent crude lifting to $111.53 a barrel from a 2-1/2-week trough of $110.59. The steadier performance came after a 4-percent drop in the past two sessions, its largest two-day drop since June.
Copper edged slightly higher to $7,185.50 a tonne, while gold slid to a three-week low of $1,356.85 an ounce before a bit of profit-taking pushed it back to $1,364.50.
There was little in the way of major economic news out of Asia on Wednesday, in Europe, Britain's jobs data will be in focus.
(Additional reporting by Jungmin Jang in Seoul; Editing by Eric Meijer)