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Tech sector brightens as Apple jumps 8 percent

A man looks at an electronic board displaying Japan's Nikkei average (top C) and various countries' stock indices, as passers-by walk past outside a brokerage in Tokyo April 16, 2014. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

By Wayne Cole

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian markets could get a lift on Thursday after tech heavyweights Apple and Facebook beat Wall Street expectations, sending their stock up sharply and boosting Nasdaq futures.

The results came out after the close on Wednesday so could not stop the major U.S. indices from ending in the red, but futures pointed to a bounce on Thursday. The Nasdaq futures were up 1 percent and the S&P 500 0.3 percent.

Sentiment on the tech sector brightened after Apple decided to buy back $30 billion of its shares out to the end of 2015 and authorized a seven-for-one stock split. Its shares jumped almost 8 percent to $566.50 in after-hours trade.

Apple reported sales of 43.7 million iPhones in the quarter ended March, far outpacing forecasts. That drove a 4.6 percent rise in revenue to $45.6 billion, a record for any non-holiday quarter.

The iPhone maker's strong performance could have a positive knock-on effect across some of Asia's big tech players in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

Facebook Inc shares also boasted a 3.7 percent jump after hours as the Internet social networking company topped Wall Street's financial targets.

The Nasdaq had ended Wednesday 0.83 percent lower, while the Dow eased 0.08 percent and the S&P 500 lost 0.22 percent.

Boeing Co shares were up 2.4 percent after its first-quarter revenue beat expectations, while lifting its core earnings forecast to reflect a tax settlement gain.

The main mover in currencies was the New Zealand dollar which hopped higher after the country's central bank raised interest rates by a quarter point to 3 percent and signaled there was more tightening to come.

The kiwi dollar gained around a third of a cent to a high of $0.8621 after the announcement.

Yet that was the only excitement in a market that has been trading within frustratingly tight ranges recently. The U.S. dollar had barely budged on the yen at 102.49, having yo-yoed in a 101.50 to 104.50 band for almost three months now.

Likewise, the euro was little changed at $1.3817 after failing to sustain even the smallest of rallies overnight. It briefly popped up to $1.3854 following better news on euro zone manufacturing, but quickly ran out of steam.

The latest performance of manufacturing indices (PMI) showed euro zone businesses enjoyed the best month in nearly three years, led by a jump in Germany.

The "flash" PMI for the United States dipped a tick to 55.4 in April, missing forecasts of 56.0 but still pointing to solid growth in the sector.

However, there was worrying news on U.S. housing as new home sales dived 14.5 percent in March on top of a 4.5 drop in February. The annualized sales pace of 384,000 was the second slowest since late 2012, a blow to what has been a major driver of the U.S. economic recovery.

In commodity markets, oil prices dipped on Wednesday after U.S. crude inventories hit a record high, though the continuing crisis in Ukraine kept a floor under the market.

Brent crude for June delivery lost 16 cents to $109.11 a barrel. U.S. crude had pared some losses early Thursday to be up 9 cents at $101.53 a barrel.

Gold was holding steady around $1,284.50 an ounce but remained uncomfortably close to major chart support at $1,275.

(Editing by Shri Navaratnam)