GLOBAL MARKETS-Shares slightly lower, oil eases from 8-week high
* MSCI Asia ex-Japan down 0.1 percent, poised for weekly gain
* Nikkei down 0.3 percent, firm yen weighs
* Oil prices ease after hitting 8-week high overnight
HONG KONG, July 20 (Reuters) - Asian shares were a tad weaker on Friday but were poised for their biggest weekly gain since January as strong U.S. corporate earnings lifted the S&P 500 to a 2-1/2 month high, although a firm yen kept Japanese shares on the backfoot.
Oil prices eased after hitting an eight-week high overnight as Middle East tension stoked supply concern. While a rally in commodities has seen corn and soybean prices soar to record highs due to a worsening U.S. farm-belt drought.
Japan's Nikkei was down 0.3 percent in early trading with pharma and electrical equipment makers weak.
The MSCI Asia Pacific ex-Japan index was down 0.1 percent. It is up 2.4 percent so far this week.
Better-than-expected quarterly profits from U.S. companies, particularly in the technology sector, have offset economic data that continues to point to a lacklustre U.S. recovery.
Shrinking factory activity in the U.S. mid-Atlantic region, more evidence of sluggish job growth and falling revenue at investment bank Morgan Stanley kept investors wary.
Banks were also under pressure in South Korea in the wake of a rate-fixing probe that follows investigations into the suspected manipulation of the Libor international benchmark in other major economies.
A group of banks being investigated in an interest rate rigging scandal are looking to pursue a group settlement with regulators rather than face a Barclays-style backlash by going it alone, people familiar with the banks' thinking said.
Grain prices pushed to record highs as scattered rains in U.S. Midwest did little to douse fears that the worst U.S. drought in half a century will end soon or relieve worries around higher food prices.
Corn for September delivery at the Chicago Board of Trade set a record high of $8.16-3/4 a bushel, while soybeans for August delivery also set a record high of $17.49. Wheat for September rose 4 percent at $9.35 and set a four-year high.
Gold hovered near $1,580 an ounce on Friday, retaining gains from the previous session as weak U.S. economic data kept hopes for more monetary stimulus from the central bank which would drive investors to bullion.
U.S. crude was down 0.7 percent while Brent futures for September delivery were off 0.4 percent.
A mid-week attack that claimed the lives of top officials in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle and a Bulgarian bus bombing that killed Israeli tourists -- an act Israel blamed on Iran -- reinforced fears that oil shipments could be disrupted.
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