Filomena Scalise

Tokyo - An index of Asian shares neared a six-and-half-year peak on Friday and was poised for a weekly gain, after upbeat US economic data sparked another record close on Wall Street.

Still, investors were cautious ahead of a speech by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen later in the day at the annual gathering of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which will be studied for any fresh signals about the timing of US interest rate increases.

Investors “want to hold their positions until Yellen's speech is over, and they may take profits after that”, said Norihiro Fujito, a senior investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.5 percent, on track for a weekly gain of 0.8 percent and within a few points of its July 30 high, which was its loftiest level since January 2008.

Japan's Nikkei stock average added 0.1 percent, but was poised for a robust 1.8 percent weekly gain and its longest winning streak since 1988 after it rose for the past nine sessions.

US home resales rose to a 10-month high in July, factory activity in the mid-Atlantic region hit its highest level since March 2011 in August, and a gauge of future economic activity grew solidly last month.

The data lifted US shares, with the S&P 500 ending at a fresh record. S&P 500 e-mini futures were up 0.1 percent in Asia, which could portend more US gains later in the day.

Kansas City Fed President Esther George told CNBC on Thursday the time has come for higher rates, while less hawkish San Francisco Fed President John Williams said the bank should wait until the summer of 2015.

Minutes from the Fed's July meeting on Wednesday showed policymakers debated whether interest rates should be raised earlier given a surprisingly strong job market recovery.

The latest data and the minutes helped US Treasury yields pull away from recent lows, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year US Treasury note at 2.410 percent in Asia, compared with its US close of 2.407 percent on Thursday. It dropped as low as 2.30 percent a week ago, its lowest since June 2013.

The dollar hovered just below its 2014 peak against a basket of major currencies early on Friday, with the dollar index steady on the day at 82.146.

The dollar was treading water against its Japanese counterpart at 103.82 yen, after hitting an overnight high of 103.97, in sight of its April peak of 104.13 yen.

The euro was also steady on the day at $1.3282, after German data helped it pull away from an 11-month trough of $1.3242 plumbed on Thursday.

Markit's flash composite Purchasing Managers' Index for Germany was 54.9 for August, well above the 50 mark that separates economic expansion from contraction, reassuring investors about Europe's biggest economy.

In commodities trading, spot gold edged up to $1,278.25 an ounce, after losing 1.3 percent on Thursday to a two-month low, as speculation about an early US interest rate hike sparked a technical selloff after prices broke below a key support level.

US crude was down 0.2 percent at $93.81 a barrel, set to post a fifth straight weekly fall. - Reuters