GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian shares rise on strong U.S. data, China in focus

Last Updated: Sat, Jan 19, 2013 18:40 hrs

* MSCI Asia ex-Japan up 0.3 pct, Nikkei opens up 1.7 pct

* Yen hovers near lows vs dollar, euro

* Chinese data in focus, including Q4 GDP

By Chikako Mogi

TOKYO, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Asian shares edged higher on Friday, tracking overnight gains in global equities markets after firm U.S. data signalled strength in the world's largest economy, lifting sentiment ahead of a batch of economic indicators from China later in the day.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.3 percent, snapping a three-day losing streak.

Risk assets rose broadly on Thursday, with the Standard & Poor's 500 Index rallying to a five-year closing high after surprisingly strong U.S. housing and labor market data. While strong demand at a Spanish debt auction eased concerns about the euro zone's debt woes.

Markets are now awaiting data from China, Asia's biggest economy, due at 0200 GMT. The data includes fourth-quarter GDP, December industrial output, retail sales and house price. .

"China's fourth-quarter GDP announcement expected during trading could prove a variable in today's session," said Lim Jong-pil, an analyst at Hyundai Securities in Seoul.

Annual economic growth may have quickened to 7.8 percent in the fourth quarter from 7.4 percent in the third, according to a Reuters poll of economists, driven by faster infrastructure investment and a heating up of the housing market.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei average opened 1.7 percent higher, as the yen resumed its downtrend after a brief pause in recent heavy selling. A weak yen helps improve earnings prospects for Japanese exporters.

Australian shares added 0.4 percent, after closing Thursday at a 20-month high when an unexpected fall in Australian employment in December raised the chances for another interest rate cut. South Korean shares opened up 0.7 percent.


The euro and the dollar advanced to fresh highs against the yen, gaining on the back of the strong U.S. data, and mounting expectations for bolder easing by the Bank of Japan (BOJ) at its meeting next week.

On Thursday, the dollar rose to 90.14 yen, its highest since June 2010, while the euro hit 120.615 yen, its highest since May 2011. The dollar was at 89.86 yen early on Friday and the euro was at 120.18 yen.

Over the past two months, the yen has come under strong pressure on expectations that the new Japanese government will pursue massive fiscal spending and push for more aggressive easing from the BOJ to drive Japan out of years of deflation and economic slump.

Citing sources familiar with the central bank's thinking, Reuters reported on Thursday that the BOJ next week will consider removing the 0.1 percent floor on short-term interest rates and commit to open-ended asset buying until the 2 percent inflation target is reached.

With various options floating around about the extent of monetary easing from the Japanese central bank, there is growing risk that the actual policy outcome next week may disappoint some in the market.

"We think there is some risk of disappointment at the BOJ meeting and scope for a yen rally. It is now consensus that the BOJ will move to a 2 percent inflation target. However, more aggressive measures may not come until closer to the nomination of the new governor/deputy governors in Q2," said Kiran Kowshik, strategist at BNP Paribas.

U.S. crude eased 0.3 percent to $95.17 a barrel, after rising on Thursday on the positive U.S. economic outlook.

The strong U.S. data underpinned industrial commodities, including oil and platinum, a vital material for automakers. Platinum hit a three-month high of $1,701.50 an ounce on Thursday, rising above gold prices again after reclaiming its premium over bullion earlier this week for the first time since March 2012.

Platinum was off highs early on Friday, trading at $1,682.49, while gold was at $1,686.60.

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