Filomena Scalise

Tokyo - Asian shares edged higher on Friday, catching a lift from another record close on Wall Street, while the dollar groaned under the pressure of slumping US yields.

The S&P 500 index posted its third record closing high in four sessions, as investors shrugged off the first quarterly contraction of the US economy in three years and focused on signs of a strengthening labour market.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan added about 0.1 percent, on track for a modest weekly rise, and touched an intraday one-year high for the sixth time in the last seven sessions.

Japan's Nikkei stock average edged down 0.2 percent in choppy trading, as investors booked profits after six sessions of gains, its longest winning streak since December. It was still on course for a small weekly increase, and supported by strong consumer price data.

Japan's core consumer prices jumped 3.2 percent in April from a year earlier, the fastest gain since February 1991 after a hike to Japan's national sales tax led to price increases.

“The figures suggest that we can expect rents to rise and companies' sales to increase, which will lead to increased capital spending,” said Shigemitsu Tsuruta, senior strategist at SMBC Friend Securities. “Such expectations are lifting the mood, and we are bullish about the Japanese market in the second half of 2014.”

But Japan's economic picture is not entirely rosy, as separate data showed household spending falling in April at its fastest rate in three years and industrial production slowing more than expected.

Data released overnight showed US first-quarter gross domestic product fell a steeper-than-forecast 1 percent, but the drop was not enough to quash expectations of a second-quarter recovery. A decline in weekly jobless claims underscored a strengthening labour market.

The yield on benchmark 10-year Treasuries last traded at 2.466 percent, up from the US close of 2.447 percent. But it was still not far from its lowest levels since last June, touched this week, as markets became convinced that the Federal Reserve won't begin raising rates any time soon.

“Ten-year yields in the US, Europe and Japan are near cyclical lows, on growing evidence of central banks' willingness to keep rates low for long, led by a dovish Fed and speculations on ECB easing next week,” strategists at Barclays said in a note to clients.

Reuters reported earlier this month that the ECB is preparing a package of policy options for its June 5 meeting that includes cuts in all its interest rates.

The euro was steady at $1.3603 but not far from Thursday's three-month low of $1.3586.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major rivals, eased about 0.1 percent to 80.456 .

The yen was slightly higher against the dollar, which bought 101.55, down about 0.2 percent.

In commodities trading, spot gold was steady after a three-session losing streak at $1,255.66 an ounce, but was still headed for its biggest weekly drop in two months against the backdrop of an improving US economy.

Copper was steady on the day at $6,881.50 a ton, poised for its biggest monthly rise of the year due to peak seasonal demand from China.

US crude fell 0.2 percent to $103.41 a barrel but was still on course for its first monthly rise in three months, as tension in Ukraine and Libya supported futures throughout this month. - Reuters