* MSCI Asia ex-Japan up 0.8 pct, Nikkei hits fresh five-year
* China reports stronger-than-forecast April trade data
* Equities seen preferred as global easings depress returns
* European shares likely inch higher
By Chikako Mogi
TOKYO, May 8 (Reuters) - Asian shares rose to their highest
in nearly two years on Wednesday, as strong Chinese trade data
added to positive sentiment already fed by record highs in
global equities overnight.
European stock markets were seen firmer, with financial
spreadbetters predicting London's FTSE 100, Paris's
CAC-40 and Frankfurt's DAX would open up as
much as 0.2 percent. Germany's benchmark DAX equity
index ended at a record high on Tuesday.
U.S. stock futures were steady to suggest a calm Wall
Street open after the Standard & Poor's 500 Index hit an
intraday record high and the Dow Jones industrial average
closed above 15,000 for the first time the day before.
Investors are seeing better returns from equities than
bonds, which have been hit by interest rate cuts by major
central banks, with the Reserve Bank of Australia becoming the
latest to do so on Tuesday.
"The RBA is just playing catch-up," said Evan Lucas, a
market strategist at IG in Melbourne, noting central banks'
moves around the globe. "The major benefactors of this cut will
be risk stocks as income-plays flopped on the move."
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan
added 0.8 percent to its highest since August
2011, driven by a 1 percent gain in Australian shares to
a new peak since July 2008. Hong Kong shares rose 0.6
"The global monetary easing is in full flight, and this will
continue to push money managers into the most compelling asset
out there - equities," Chris Weston, chief market strategist at
IG markets, said in a note to clients.
After last Friday's upbeat U.S. monthly nonfarm payrolls and
this week's German industrial orders showing unexpected
strength, China followed suit on Wednesday with
better-than-expected trade numbers for April, further cementing
the positive mood.
China's exports and imports grew more than expected in April
from a year earlier, possibly easing some of the concerns about
weakness in the recovery of the world's second-largest economy
and top consumer of many commodities following a run of
below-par data in recent weeks.
However, doubts remained over the strength of real demand in
China and the accuracy of the figures, with some analysts
suspecting exporters may have overstated their business to sneak
funds into the country and avoid capital restrictions.
Separately, as the country struggles to keep rising capital
inflows at bay, dealers said China's central bank may be
preparing to change the way it manages monetary policy by
reintroducing bills as a liquidity management tool for the first
time since 2011.
The Australian dollar reached its intraday high of
$1.0193 after the data from China, its biggest export market.
Japanese stocks again outperformed their regional peers,
scaling a fresh five-year high. The Nikkei stock average
climbed as much as 1.7 percent to its highest since June 2008.
Nikkei has surged more than 65 percent since mid-November,
when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe began promising expansionary
monetary and fiscal policies to revive the economy during his
election campaign. As part of the policy mix known as the
"Abenomics," the Bank of Japan last month pledged to double
monetary base to achieve a 2 percent inflation in two years.
"Economic indicators have yet to show clear impact from
Abenomics. That said, investors appear ready to give new
policies the benefit of the doubt for a few more months,"
Morgan Stanley said in a research.
TOUGH TIMES FOR GOLD
Global equities, particularly in the United States, have
remained robust despite the recent signs of a patchy recovery in
world growth, mainly helped by major central banks pursuing
accommodative monetary policy.
A successful bond sale in Portugal also supported the upbeat
mood as it indicated the country is on track to exit its
bailout, bolstering views that the euro zone crisis is abating
even as debt problems in the region remain far from resolved.
Gold has taken a beating in this environment. Spot gold
was up 0.1 percent at $1,453.89 an ounce, after losing
over 1 percent on Tuesday as holdings on gold-backed
exchange-traded funds fell to their weakest since early 2009.
"The continuing outflow of gold ETFs is symbolic. Money is
returning to 'normal' financial assets such as stocks,
suggesting the super-cycle of a commodities boom is over and
tough times lie ahead, especially for metals," said Bob Takai,
general manager of Sumitomo Corp's energy division in Tokyo.
"Commodities prices will be determined more by normal supply
and demand balances than speculative money flows," he said,
adding that a downtrend in commodities prices will hurt
The euro rose 0.1 percent to $1.3093 against the
dollar. The U.S. currency eased 0.1 percent to 98.95 yen.
U.S. crude futures inched up 0.1 percent to $95.72 a
barrel but Brent inched down 0.1 percent to $104.28.