Asian shares gain, US payrolls data eyed

Asian stocks rose on Friday, buoyed by Wall Street's gains the previous day, but investors remained cautious ahead of the U.S. nonfarm payrolls report later in the session.

The euro remained near overnight highs following the European Central Bank's decision not to ease policy, while the safe-haven yen continued to sag after suffering sharp losses as risk appetite returned.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up about 0.3 percent, and Tokyo's Nikkei rose 0.6 percent.

U.S. nonfarm payrolls are forecast to have increased by around 149,000 in February, according to a Reuters survey of economists, up from the weather-depressed gains of 113,000 in January and 75,000 in December.

Market watchers said expectations may have been lowered by the soft ADP private-sector jobs report and ISM services sector survey released earlier this week.

"The market could treat the consensus figure of about 150,000 jobs as a positive surprise. Considering the severe winter conditions, a number through to 120,000 may not be considered a letdown," said Ayako Sera, senior market economist at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust in Tokyo.

The dollar fetched 102.96 yen, having broken above the 103 yen threshold on Thursday for the first time since late January and pulling away from this week's low of 101.20 yen hit on Monday.

A solid U.S. nonfarm payrolls report would help the greenback consolidate its position above 103 yen but participants will be wary of pushing too hard as the crisis in Ukraine appears to be far from over, Sera at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust said.

Markets are keen to know what bearing the U.S. jobs report may have on Federal Reserve policy. Unless the jobs increase comes in below 100,000, the Fed will likely stick to its stimulus reduction course when it meets later this month, Kathy Lien, managing director at BK Asset Management in New York, said in a note to clients.

The dollar index, which weighs the dollar against a basket of major currencies, was at 79.666, after skidding as low as 79.590, its lowest since late October, in wake of the euro's surge.

The ECB's decision on Thursday to stand pat pushed the euro to its highest level since late December. It was steady in Asia at $1.3859, after rising as high as $1.3873 on the EBS trading platform following the ECB's announcement.

The euro also remained firm against the Japanese currency, buying 142.68 yen after touching 142.99 yen earlier on Friday, its highest since January 10.

On the commodity front, gold traded near a four-month peak, pushed higher on Thursday when the ECB's decision dented the dollar and increased bullion's currency-hedge appeal.

In a reminder of the geopolitical risk from the Ukraine/Crimea crisis, U.S. crude oil futures reached $101.80 a barrel on Friday, bouncing from the previous day's low of $100.13, as the market watched for any disruption of oil and gas supply from Russia to Europe.

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