By Kevin Plumberg
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Asian stocks were steady on Tuesday, as investors took a breather after lifting shares some 16 percent in the last two weeks, though the profit-taking urge was contained by a jump in U.S. new home sales and hopes for solid corporate results in the region.
Relatively hawkish comments from the governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia boosted the Australian dollar, after being down most of the morning, and oil prices also edged down after U.S. crude hit the highest since July 2 overnight.
Japan's Nikkei share average edged down 0.2 percent, after posting a nine-day rising streak, the longest winning run since 1988.
"High-tech shares that had already rallied are pausing for now, and clues to further gains in the overall market will depend on the degree to which investors snap up laggard banking shares," said Takahiko Murai, general manager of equities at Nozomi Securities in Tokyo.
Valuations have been recovering from depressed levels in Japan. However, on a price-to-book basis, the Nikkei is trading at around 1.3 times compared with the five-year average of 1.8 times, suggesting there may still be pockets of value.
The MSCI index of Asia Pacific stocks outside Japan rose 0.4 percent, racking up a 10 month high. Gains have sharply outpaced global equity markets, with the regional index up 69 percent since March 9, when share markets began a bullish recovery, compared with a 45 percent gain in the MSCI all-country world index.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose 0.5 percent in a choppy session, with index heavyweight China Mobile up 1.9 percent.
Investors in mainland China awaited the debut on Wednesday of China State Construction Engineering Corp, which with expected proceeds of $7.3 billion, will be the biggest IPO this year.
The IPO market in China has heated up to the point of increasing fears of a stock market bubble -- only months after the worst of the financial crisis has passed.
Sichuan Expressway tripled in price on its first day of trade on Monday, though it was down 10 percent on Tuesday.
Merrill Lynch economists raised their 2009 Chinese gross domestic product growth forecast to 8.7 percent from 8 percent, and said winding down measures to boost the economy will happen beginning in the spring of 2010.
"Though sustainability of China's recovery remains a concern for some investors, a new concern is when Beijing will tighten policies. The so-called strategy has become a new focus for investors," economists Ting Lu and TJ Bond wrote in a note.
The Australian dollar turned positive on the day, trading up 0.2 percent to $0.8245 after Australia's top central banker said upside risks to the economy balanced the downside risks.
However, he also warned that low rates should lead to home building and not just higher prices.
The euro was largely unchanged against the U.S. dollar compared with late Monday in New York, trading at $1.4228. The euro rose to an eight-week high overnight after a report showed U.S. new home sales rose 11 percent in June, the biggest monthly rise since 2000.
Oil prices slipped but has risen some $10 in the last two weeks as investor appetite for risk increased amid improving global economic signals. U.S. light crude for September delivery was down 0.5 percent to $68.05 a barrel.