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