TOKYO, RAW – Share markets firmed on Thursday after the US Federal Reserve engineered an orderly start to unwinding its massive stimulus program, though doubts about the inflation outlook did push up longer-dated bond yields.

Anxious eyes now turn to the Bank of England which may kick off a rate hike cycle later in the day with uncertain implications for debt markets globally.

For now, equity investors were content that the Fed was in no rush to remove the policy punch bowl and Nasdaq futures added 0.3 per cent to another record high. If sustained, it would be the ninth straight session of gains.

S&P 500 futures edged up 0.1 per cent, while Japan’s Nikkei climbed 1.1 per cent to its highest in a month.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan crept up 0.3 per cent. The index has been burdened by a spike in new coronavirus cases in China, which threatens to curb consumer spending in an already slowing economy.

Strong readings on US services and employment underpinned the better mood.

As expected, the Fed announced it would trim its bond buying by $US15 billion ($A20 billion) a week from this month, while leaving open the option to quicken or slow the pace as needed.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell did sound slightly less sure inflationary forces would prove to be fleeting, enough to hit longer-term bonds and bear steepen the yield curve.

“Overall, we didn’t get anything that should imply higher market pricing of hikes than what we have now,” said Jan Nevruzi an analyst at NatWest Markets.

Fed futures imply a first hike to 0.25 per cent by June with another to 0.5 per cent by the end of 2022..

“While not an ultra-dovish meeting, the result was still a far cry from some of the more stunning hawkish surprises seen recently from the likes of the Bank of Canada,” added Nevruzi.

The Canadian and Australian central banks have caused turmoil in their bond markets in the last couple of weeks by abruptly changing tack on policy.

Poland’s central bank surprised with an aggressive hike overnight, heightening tensions for the BoE’s meeting where the decision could be nail-bitingly close.

The uncertainty kept sterling on edge at $US1.3685 ($A1.8359), having been as low as $US1.3605 ($A1.8252) overnight.

The dollar softened a little to 93.846 as speculators booked profits on long positions, though the uptrend of the past five months was still in place. It held broadly steady on the yen at 114.07.

The euro bounced modestly to $US1.1615 ($A1.5582), but remains hampered by expectations the European Central Bank will trail the Fed in tightening by some margin.

In commodities, the rise in bond yields saw gold dither around $US1,776 ($A2,383) an ounce.

Oil prices slid as US inventories grew and Iran announced the resumption of talks on a nuclear accord. Pressure is also mounting for OPEC+ to expand production at a meeting later on Thursday, though signs are the group will stick with its current plans.

Brent stood at $US81.99 ($A109.99) a barrel, after falling more than four per cent overnight, while US crude lost another 49 cents to $US80.37 ($A107.82).