GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian shares firmer, Nikkei buoyed by U.S. data

Mon Jul 1, 2013 10:55pm EDT

* Japan's Nikkei touches highest level in nearly 5 weeks

* MSCI Asia-Pacific ex-Japan gains 0.2 pct

* Manufacturing data in U.S. and Europe offset China disappointment

* Gold consolidates after last quarter's 23 pct drop

By Masayuki Kitano and Ian Chua

SINGAPORE/SYDNEY, July 2 (Reuters) - Asian stocks rose on Tuesday with Tokyo's Nikkei hitting its highest in nearly five weeks after encouraging manufacturing data in Europe and the United States helped cheer markets fretting about a slowing Chinese economy.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan edged up 0.2 percent. Australian shares climbed 1.5 percent. South Korean shares edged up initially but later pared their gains and eased 0.1 percent.

Japan's Nikkei gained 1.1 percent to 14,000.22, heading for a fourth straight day of gains. That would be its longest winning streak since mid-May, just before a sharp sell-off that drove the index into bear market territory for a period.

The Nikkei touched a high of 14,029.36 at one point, its highest level since late May.

"People are kind of taking off their downside strategies, so that's helping the upside a little bit," a senior trader at a foreign bank said, referring to derivative trades among hedge funds.

The Nikkei's gains followed a rise on Wall Street, which took heart from data showing U.S. manufacturing expanded last month, while construction spending neared a four-year high in May.

Also encouraging, factory activity in Europe showed signs of stabilisation last month, and British manufacturing recorded its strongest growth in more than two years.

All these reports helped offset some disappointment over China, whose own survey on Monday showed a further slowdown in factory activity.

The reports also highlight an improving trend for the U.S. economy that could see the Federal Reserve keep to guidance that it could start dialling down stimulus later this year.

Analysts said that possibility should keep the U.S. dollar on an upward trajectory over the medium- to longer-term.

"As the U.S. economy pulls ahead of Europe and Japan, and the Fed changes course, the dollar is at the start of a multi-year rally," said Kit Juckes, strategist at Societe Generale.

Juckes said the dollar index, which tracks the greenback's performance against a currency basket, could rise by 10-15 percent over the medium/longer term.

For now though, the dollar index was taking a breather having jumped 3.5 percent from June 19 to June 28 to reach a one-month peak. It last stood at 83.051, just off Friday's high of 83.344.

Against the yen, the dollar eased 0.1 percent to 99.58 yen , hovering near a one-month high of 99.87 yen set on Monday. The euro eased 0.1 percent to $1.3056.

The Australian dollar slipped 0.1 percent to $0.9222 . The Aussie remained above a 33-month trough of $0.9110 hit on Monday, however, having bounced from that low as investors trimmed bearish positions following a bruising 4.7 percent tumble in June.

The steep fall in the currency, which in itself is stimulatory for the economy, is a key reason many economists expect the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) will keep its cash rate steady at a record low 2.75 percent later on Tuesday.

Only 2 out of 23 economists polled by Reuters see the RBA lowering its cash rate to 2.5 percent and markets are giving a less than one-in-five chance of a rate cut. The outcome of the meeting is due at 0430 GMT.

In commodities, U.S. crude eased 0.1 percent to $97.90 a barrel.

Spot gold edged up 0.3 percent to $1,256.29 an ounce, continuing to consolidate after slumping 23 percent in the April-June quarter, its worst quarterly loss in at least 45 years.