Asia stocks edge up after US data, dollar consolidates month's gains

TOKYO/SINGAPORE: Asian stocks pulled ahead on Friday after US data continued to put the economy in a positive light, while the dollar was on the defensive against major peers.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS gained 0.2 percent to a two-week high. The index was on track to rise 2.2 percent this week.

Japan's Nikkei .N225 nudged up 0.4 percent, buoyed by prospects of Tokyo delaying a sales tax hike, helping to extend gains for the week to 1.5 percent.

China's CSI300 .CSI300 and Shanghai Composite .SSEC indices both slipped by 0.1 percent, set for declines of 0.6 percent and 0.3 percent respectively for the week.

The Hong Kong Hang Seng index .HSI was also down 0.3 percent, but remains on track for a jump of 2.4 percent for the week.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI inched down 0.1 percent and the S&P 500 .SPX ended flat overnight after rising strongly for two days as advancing utilities offset declines in materials, banks and other cyclical industries. [.N]

US data on Thursday showed durable goods orders, pending home sales and initial jobless claims coming in strong, while capital goods orders and the Kansas City Fed manufacturing survey were weak. ECONUS

"The markets have been attentive to clues on US economic conditions. Positive data will signal that conditions may be ripe for a rate hike as soon as in the June Federal Open Market Committee (meeting)," said Bernard Aw, market analyst at IG in Singapore.

"Market participants will be hyper-sensitive to US data, with next week's inflation data and employment data to be scrutinized," he said.

The dollar rose 0.2 percent to 109.92 yen JPY= after losing 0.4 percent overnight. It is on track for a fall of 0.2 percent for the week.

The euro treaded water at $1.1183 EURO= following Thursday's 0.3 percent gain, but is set for a weekly loss of 0.4 percent.

The dollar index was nearly flat at 95.236 .DOXY after slipping 0.3 percent overnight, pulling away from a two-month high of 95.661 scaled on Wednesday. It's poised for a 0.1 percent loss for the week, but up 2.3 percent this month.

The greenback had rallied earlier in the week on growing expectations the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates as soon as June or July, supported by a series of comments from Fed officials seemingly backing such a move.

The financial markets are now looking to the revisions of US first quarter GDP data and comments from Fed Chair Janet Yell at a Harvard University-sponsored event later on Friday.

"Given the uniformity of comments from policymakers, we don't think Yell will throw cold water on rate hike expectations and could in fact reinforce them," wrote Kathy Lien, managing director of FX strategy at BKX Asset Management.

"Economists are also looking for first quarter GDP growth to be revised higher so today's pullback in the dollar should be temporary."

The Australian dollar slipped after rising overnight on a modest upgrade in domestic capex data. The Aussie, which fell to a near three-month low of $0.7145 on Tuesday amid a slide in commodities, was last down 0.1 percent at $0.7216 AU=D4.

In commodities, crude oil went into consolidation mode after prices hit $50 a barrel overnight for the first time in seven months.

Brent crude LCOc1 was down 0.8 percent at $49.21 a barrel after surging to as high as $50.51 on Thursday. It's headed for a 1 percent gain for the week.

US crude also slipped 0.4 percent to $49.13 after climbing to as $50.21 in the previous session, and is set for a weekly rise of 2.9 percent.

Wildfires in Canada's oil sands area, unrest in the Nigerian and Libyan energy sectors, and a near economic meltdown in OPEC member Venezuela have knocked out nearly 4 million barrels per day in immediate production, sparking a buying frenzy in crude futures. [O/R]

The rise in risk appetite this week has weighed on gold, with the precious metal headed for its biggest decline in nine weeks.

Spot gold EAU= slipped 0.6 percent to $1,213.10 per ounce, close to an eight-week low of 1,211.30 seen earlier in the session, and on track for a slide of 3.1 percent for the week.