Asian shares rise, dollar struggles after soft US data

Asian shares rose on Friday while the US dollar struggled to regain traction after downbeat US economic data pushed it to a nearly three-week low against the euro.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan added about 0.8%. Japan's Nikkei stock average erased an initial bounce and pulled back 0.7%, as snow blanketed Tokyo and the yen pushed higher.

"Japanese stocks have trouble advancing as overseas investors have become reticent," said Kenichi Hirano, a strategist at Tachibana Securities in Tokyo.

Australia's main index added about 0.7%, on course to end five consecutive weeks of losses and mark its biggest weekly rise since December 2011.

China's consumer inflation remained at a seven-month low in January while factory gate prices fell for a 23rd consecutive month, broadly in line with market expectations and consistent with other recent data showing economic weakness. This gave investors no reason to expect any change to the central bank's policy stance.

"Inflation is not going to be an issue in China this year," said Tim Condon, an economist at ING in Singapore.

"They don't have to worry about inflation, so they do have the flexibility on the monetary and the fiscal side to stimulate a bit to avert too much of a slowdown. It's good news I think."

On Wall Street on Thursday, investors managed to shrug off the dour US economic data. The Dow Jones industrial average, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite all marked gains, despite a storm that battered many eastern states.

US retail sales fell unexpectedly in January, while separate data showed more claims for jobless benefits last week, against a backdrop of unusually bad weather.

"While some of the softness is likely weather-related, the weakness was broad-based enough to suggest consumption is off to a weaker start in 2014," strategists at Barclays wrote in a note to clients.

"That said, the trend strengthening in real consumption remains, and we maintain our outlook for modest above-trend economic growth in 2014-15," they added, noting that Treasuries nonetheless got a lift from the downbeat data.

The yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes stood at 2.737% in Asian trade, compared with Thursday's US close of 2.736%.

Yields have rallied this week after the US Congress approved an increase in the debt limit and incoming Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen maintained the central bank's commitment to gradually withdraw its stimulus.

Against the yen, the greenback's early gains unravelled, and it slumped about 0.1% on the day to 102.08 yen, moving away from Thursday's session high of 102.58 yen.

The dollar index slumped about 0.1% to 80.274, though it remained above Thursday's low of 80.194, a level last seen on January 24.

The euro was holding steady at $1.3677, not far from the previous session's high of $1.3692, which was its highest since January 27.

The common currency had a muted reaction to news that Italian prime minister will resign on Friday, opening the way for the country's third administration in a year.

Investors awaited fourth quarter growth data out of the euro zone later on Friday. Analysts polled by Reuters expect slightly faster growth in the 17-nation economy.

In commodities trading, US crude inched up slightly to $100.38 a barrel after skidding on the previous session's dismal US data. Brent crude add about 0.1% to $108.60.

Spot gold added about 0.2% in Asian trading to $1,306 an ounce, after hitting a three-month high of $1,307.20 earlier in the session.

The US data gave gold futures a lift and helped them post their eighth straight gaining session - the longest winning streak since July 2011.

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