GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian stocks edge up, eyes on Portugal, U.S. jobs

Thu Jul 4, 2013 2:16am EDT

* MSCI Asia Pacific ex-Japan rises 1 percent

* ECB policy decision due Thursday, U.S. jobs data on Friday

* Worries about turmoil in Portugal weighs on sentiment

By Masayuki Kitano and Ian Chua

SINGAPORE/SYDNEY, July 4 (Reuters) - Asian stocks clawed higher on Thursday but gains were tempered by concerns over political turmoil in Portugal and investor caution ahead of key events including Friday's U.S. jobs data.

European shares were seen likely to inch higher. Capital Spreads forecast Britain's FTSE 100 up 12 points, Germany's DAX rising 19 points and France's CAC 40 gaining 8 points.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose about 1 percent, recouping a portion of Wednesday's slide of roughly 2.5 percent.

Regional shares were broadly higher, with Hong Kong equities last up 1.7 percent after sliding 2.5 percent the previous day, while Shanghai stocks rose 1 percent.

A modest bounce on Wall Street the previous day helped lend support to Asian stocks, market players said.

Analysts, however, were cautious about the outlook for Asian equities, given the possibility that the U.S. Federal Reserve may start dialling back its monetary stimulus later this year, and also due to recent signs of an economic slowdown in China.

"We are going to get these rebounds, but the general trend for Chinese equities in the foreseeable future is down for as long as a bottom in China growth is unclear," said Francis Cheung, CLSA's China-Hong Kong equity strategist.

The gains in Hong Kong shares were made on low volumes due to July 4 Independence Day holiday in the United States, traders said.

The U.S. nonfarm payrolls data on Friday could offer fresh clues on when the Federal Reserve will start scaling back its $85-billion-per-month bond buying programme.

"If anything, a relatively ordinary number would probably be more positive. The market could take a hit if the numbers are too strong," said Satoshi Okagawa, senior global markets analyst for Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation in Singapore, referring to the jobs data and the potential impact on Asian equities.

Asian shares were battered last quarter as speculation grew the Fed might start tapering its bond-buying programme later this year, prompting investors to position for an eventual end to the massive monetary stimulus, which has driven heavy flows into Asian assets.

A political crisis in Portugal was another reason for caution. The Portuguese government is struggling to survive following the resignations of its foreign minister and finance minister this week, which could deprive it of a majority in parliament.

Portugal's stock market dropped more than 5 percent on Wednesday, suffering its biggest fall in around three years, while government bond yields had briefly hit a high of 8.2 percent, their highest level since November 2012.

Ructions in financial markets there threatened to spill over to neighbouring countries and raise borrowing costs.

That risk saw the euro fall as much as 1.5 percent against the yen at one stage to 128.66 on Wednesday. It has since recovered to 129.84.

Against the dollar, the common currency eased 0.1 percent to $1.3002 but stayed above a five-week low of $1.2923 set on Wednesday.

The erratic moves overnight were due in part to the reluctance of investors to hold large bearish positions going into Thursday's ECB meeting.

While the ECB is expected to leave interest rates unchanged, it is likely to try to reassure investors rattled by new political stress in Europe and the U.S. Federal Reserve's plans to begin winding up its stimulus.

Brent crude slipped from a two-week high as the threat of a disruption in supplies from the Middle East eased after Egypt's armed forces toppled the country's president to force a resolution to a political crisis there.

Brent crude fell 0.2 percent to $105.53 a barrel after settling at its highest since June 19 on Wednesday.

Spot gold edged up 0.3 percent to $1,254.81 an ounce, as worries over Europe and Egypt spurred safe-haven buying.

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