Filomena Scalise

Tokyo - Asian shares hovered near four-month highs on Thursday as upbeat US data underpinned risk appetite, while news China is taking steps to stimulate its economy spurred Tokyo's Nikkei to a three-weak peak.

The yen languished at 10-week lows as equity markets rose, denting safe-haven demand for the currency.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan added 0.1 percent to brush a new four-month high. The index has rebounded about 6 percent from a five-week low hit on March 20, supported by receding tensions in Ukraine and hopes China will take steps to stimulate its sagging economy.

Tokyo's Nikkei outperformed to gain 0.9 percent.

China acted for the first time this year to steady its stumbling economy by cutting taxes for small firms on Wednesday and announcing plans to speed up the construction of railway lines.

“The (China) announcement is lifting the mood because investment expansion such as infrastructure investment would pave the way for growth in consumption in the future,” said Takuya Takahashi, a strategist at Daiwa Securities in Tokyo.

Other cues for investors came from another record-breaking performance on Wall Street, with the S&P 500 closing at an all-time high on Wednesday as markets lapped up another set of solid private-sector jobs and factory orders data.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) was up 0.3 percent at 2,003.23 points as of 02h31 GMT after hitting an intraday high of 2,007.88, the highest level since January 2, and heading for a seventh gaining session, the longest since an eight-day session on October 2011.

The data bolstered expectations for a strong US nonfarm payrolls report on Friday and pushed US Treasury yields higher, which in turn kept the dollar well bid.

The yen remained on the back foot as its safe-haven appeal continued to fade. The dollar traded at 103.905 yen, after briefly touching a 10-week high of 104.03.

The outlook for the Japanese currency remains weak. It is expected to lose ground as persistently low inflation and an economy hurt by a sales tax is likely to force the Bank of Japan to ramp up its own stimulus just as the Federal Reserve winds down its own.

The euro was little changed at $1.3762 against the dollar ahead of an European Central Bank policy meeting later in the session.

The single currency plumbed a one-month low of $1.3704 last week amid heightened speculation the ECB would ease.

“The failure to act could trigger another wave of euro buying, similar to last month,” currency strategists at Brown Brothers Harriman wrote in a note to clients.

“On the other hand, if the ECB does not ease, the market could ease for them by taking the euro lower,” they added.

The New Zealand dollar nursed losses after weak dairy production offered players an excuse to take profits on Wednesday while the kiwi traded at a 2-1/2 year peak.

The New Zealand dollar was at $0.8555, pulling back sharply from the 2-1/2 year high of $0.8702 hit earlier this week on expectations for sustained rate hikes by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand.

In the commodities markets, gold remained firm on signs of physical demand in Asia after bargain-hunting helped the metal post its biggest gain in three weeks on Wednesday.

Spot bullion was at $1,291.71 an ounce, not far off Wednesday's session high of $1,294.60.

Brent oil remained near a five-month low hit on Wednesday when expectations rebel-held Libyan ports could reopen within days eased supply woes. Lukewarm Chinese factory data also weighed on oil.

Brent crude oil was at $104.69 a barrel after falling to $103.95 on Wednesday, its lowest since November 8. - Reuters