Asian shares struggle, dollar slips as Ukraine tensions rise

Asian stocks struggled to rise on Friday, as the impact of upbeat US economic data and robust US tech shares faced off against fears of an escalating Ukraine crisis that bolstered the safe-haven yen.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that time was running out for Moscow to change its course in Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces killed up to five pro-Russia separatists on Thursday and Russia conducted army drills near the border, raising fears its troops would invade.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was a few ticks higher in early trade, while Japan's Nikkei stock average skidded 0.5% as disappointment over a failed attempt to reach a US-Japan trade pact weighed on sentiment.

The two countries made progress in trade talks at a bilateral summit in Tokyo but did not reach the trade deal that they were hoping to seal, Economy Minister Akira Amari said on Friday.

Core consumer prices in Tokyo, a leading indicator of nationwide inflation, rose 2.7% in April from a year earlier, a hair shy of forecasts. But it was still the fastest gain since 1992 as a national sales tax hike drove up prices.

"With share prices falling, political stress is on the rise. If additional easing measures are not introduced in May, the BOJ's monetary policy may become a political issue," analysts at Citi said in a note to clients.

On Wall Street overnight, stocks managed to shrug off the rising Ukraine tensions after tech bellwethers Facebook and Apple posted upbeat results on Wednesday and US economic data suggested that growth picked up pace in the second quarter.

Durable goods orders rose more than expected in March and a measure of business capital spending plans surged.

The dollar last bought 102.27 yen, down about 0.1%, while the euro also inched lower against its Japanese counterpart to 141.43 yen.

The US unit also edged lower against a basket of major currencies, with the dollar index edging down to 79.760.

Against the dollar, the euro was steady on the day at $1.3830, despite comments from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi repeating recent concerns about euro strength and the ECB's willingness to launch a "broad-based asset purchase programme" if low inflation become entrenched.

The European unit was supported by an improvement in a German business sentiment index, which indicated that Europe's largest economy managed to overcome the rising Ukraine tensions.

In the commodities front, spot gold was slightly lower at $1,293.09 an ounce after earlier touching its lowest levels since February, though fears about the Ukraine crisis limited losses.

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