GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian shares hold firm, Nikkei rises on U.S. data

Last Updated: Tue, Jul 02, 2013 06:10 hrs

* Japan's Nikkei touches highest level in nearly 5 weeks

* MSCI Asia-Pacific ex-Japan inches up 0.3 pct

* Manufacturing data in U.S. and Europe offset China disappointment

* RBA stands pat, says Aussie dollar still at high level

By Masayuki Kitano and Ian Chua

SINGAPORE/SYDNEY, July 2 (Reuters) - Asian stocks rose on Tuesday with Tokyo's Nikkei hitting its highest in nearly five weeks after encouraging manufacturing data in Europe and the United States helped cheer markets fretting about a slowing Chinese economy.

European shares were seen likely to open slightly lower, with spreadbetters expecting Britain's FTSE 100 to open 5 to 15 points lower, Germany's DAX falling 14 to 20 points and France's CAC 40 down 1 to 10 points.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan edged up 0.3 percent. Australian shares climbed 2.1 percent and other gainers included Thai equities, which advanced 1.3 percent.

Japan's Nikkei gained 1.5 percent, heading for a fourth straight day of gains. That would be its longest winning streak since mid-May, just before a sharp sell-off that drove the index into bear market territory for a period.

At one point, the Nikkei touched its highest level since late May.

"People are kind of taking off their downside strategies, so that's helping the upside a little bit," a senior trader at a foreign bank said, referring to derivative trades among hedge funds.

The Nikkei's gains followed a rise on Wall Street, which took heart from data showing U.S. manufacturing expanded last month, while construction spending neared a four-year high in May.

Also encouraging, factory activity in Europe showed signs of stabilisation last month, and British manufacturing recorded its strongest growth in more than two years.

All these reports helped offset some disappointment over China, whose own survey on Monday showed a further slowdown in factory activity.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar fell after Australia's central bank kept its cash rate at a record-matching low of 2.75 percent and reiterated that there could be room for further cuts, given the local currency was still too high for comfort.

While the decision to keep interest rates unchanged had been widely expected, the Aussie dollar dropped in reaction to the Reserve Bank of Australia's statement that the local currency was still high, despite its recent slide.

The Aussie dollar fell 0.6 percent to $0.9174, edging back in the direction of a near three-year low of $0.9110 set on Monday.

The U.S. dollar took a breather against a basket of major currencies and last stood at 83.051, down slightly from Friday's high of 83.344, its highest level in nearly a month.

The economic data on Monday had highlighted an improving trend for the U.S. economy that could see the Federal Reserve keep to guidance that it could start dialling down stimulus later this year.

Analysts said that possibility should keep the U.S. dollar on an upward trajectory over the medium- to longer-term.

"As the U.S. economy pulls ahead of Europe and Japan, and the Fed changes course, the dollar is at the start of a multi-year rally," said Kit Juckes, strategist at Societe Generale.

Juckes said the dollar index, which tracks the greenback's performance against a currency basket, could rise by 10-15 percent over the medium/longer term.

Against the yen, the dollar edged up 0.1 percent to 99.79 yen. The euro held steady at $1.3063.

In commodities, U.S. crude eased 0.1 percent to $97.92 a barrel.

Spot gold edged up 0.4 percent to $1,257.86 an ounce, continuing to consolidate after slumping 23 percent in the April-June quarter, its worst quarterly loss in at least 45 years.

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