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Shares and dollar wilt before Fed test, Apple outperforms

A cameraman films a stock quotation board at the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo December 15, 2014. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

By Wayne Cole

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian stock markets followed Wall Street into the red early on Wednesday, while the euro managed a rare rally on speculation the Federal Reserve could take a dovish turn in its post-meeting statement later in the session.

Apple Inc (AAPL.O) provided some relief after the bell as record sales of its iPhone line helped it beat expectations, sending its stock up 5 percent.

But earnings from other majors generally disappointed, with multinationals from DuPont (DD.N ) to Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) complaining that a strong U.S. dollar was hurting profits.

That left a soggy air to early Asian trade and Australia's main index (.AXJO) eased 0.4 percent while Nikkei futures (JNIc1) pointed to an opening drop of around 0.8 percent.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> was off a slim 0.06 percent.

On Wall Street, the Dow (.DJI) ended with losses of 1.65 percent, while the S&P 500 (.SPX) fell 1.34 percent and the Nasdaq (.IXIC) 1.89 percent.

Nine of the 10 primary S&P 500 sectors fell, with tech (.SPLRCT) off 3.3 percent in its biggest one-day drop since November 2011. Shares in Microsoft slid over 10 percent, while Caterpillar (CAT.N) shed 7 percent.

The latest U.S. economic news was mixed with durable goods orders surprisingly soft, but notable strength seen in housing and consumer sentiment.

The softness in business investment and corporate earnings stoked talk the Fed would have to acknowledge the more difficult environment in its policy statement at 1400 GMT.

So far, the central bank has stuck by plans to raise interest rates around the middle of 2015, but markets have relentlessly pushed out the timing to year end and are plotting a much lower trajectory for future hikes.

Fed funds <0#FF:> imply a rate of only 45 basis points by December, compared to the current effective funds rate of 12 basis points.

Just the risk of a dovish turn was enough to force speculators to cut back on crowded short positions in the euro, lifting the single currency to $1.1365 and away from Monday's 11-year low of $1.1098.

The dollar also dipped to 117.75 yen and retreated against a basket of major currencies to 94.089 (.DXY).

In commodity markets, the pullback in the dollar helped Brent crude oil (LCOc1) gain $1.10 to $49.30 a barrel.

However, U.S. crude oil futures (CLc1) were quoted 65 cents lower on Wednesday at $45.58 on news U.S. oil stockpiles surged by nearly 13 million barrels last week.

(Editing by Shri Navaratnam)