GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian shares gain, yen stays on defensive as Ukraine fears ease

Wed Mar 5, 2014 2:00am EST

* European stocks seen dipping following wide swings

* Yen's gains continue to unravel after Putin suggests conflict not imminent

* Asian shares gain, Tokyo's Nikkei rises 1.2 percent

* Focus shifts to Thursday's ECB meeting, Friday's U.S. jobs report

By Shinichi Saoshiro and Lisa Twaronite

TOKYO, March 5 (Reuters) - Asian stocks gained and the safe-haven yen remained on the defensive after a sharp tumble on Wednesday, following remarks from Russian President Vladimir Putin that allayed fears of an imminent military conflict in Ukraine.

Putin said Russia reserved the right to use all options to protect compatriots who were living in "terror" in Ukraine, but that force was not needed for now.

European stocks were seen dipping on Wednesday following the wild swings of previous sessions.

On Wednesday, financial spreadbetter IG expected Britain's FTSE 100 to open down 11 points, or 0.2 percent, Germany's DAX to open 27 points lower, or 0.3 percent, and France's CAC 40 to open down 13 points, or 0.3 percent lower.

"While the Ukraine saga looks set to rumble on and Europe's markets get set for a slightly negative open, the focus can now shift back to the mundane matters of economic data," Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, said in a note to clients.

With wariness over Ukraine on a lower boil, focus shifted back to fundamentals, notably Thursday's European Central Bank monetary policy meeting and Friday's U.S. nonfarm payrolls report.

Earlier on Wednesday, Tokyo's Nikkei climbed 1.2 percent, buoyed after Putin's remarks helped the S&P 500 attain another record closing high on Tuesday. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.5 percent.

Soichiro Monji, chief strategist at Daiwa SB Investments in Tokyo, said the markets took Putin's words positively though the Russian leader did not rule out military intervention.

"While it looks like Russia's control of Crimea is becoming a fait accompli, there is no further escalation and no major sanction by the G7 other than skipping the G8 meeting," Monji said.

Despite the widespread relief, market watchers warned of further jolts from the crisis in Crimea.

"The easing of geopolitical tensions saw a reversal of yesterday's movements in most asset markets. However, tensions remain high and suggest some further volatility in financial markets while the situation in Ukraine remains uncertain," said Janu Chan, an economist at St. George Bank in Sydney.

The Australian dollar, already on a bullish footing on revived risk appetite, received a further boost after data showed Australia's economic growth had beaten forecasts.

The Aussie was at $0.8958 from a low near 89 U.S. cents.

Australia's major trading partner China said on Wednesday it would maintain its economic growth target for 2014 at around 7.5 percent, as expected, and push forward convertibility of the yuan.

Analysts said the statement was an indication that China would widen the yuan's trading band going forward, further signalling a possible end to the currency's one-way appreciation

The dollar index traded at 80.178, moving away from Friday's two-month low of 79.688.

Economists polled by Reuters expect Friday's U.S. nonfarm payrolls report for February could show a more solid increase of 150,000 jobs last month.

The yen remained on the back foot after a heavy reversal on Tuesday. The dollar was buying 102.14 yen, moving away from a one-month low of 101.20 hit on Monday, while the euro bought 140.23 yen, after touching a two-week low of 138.75 yen on Thursday.

The euro was nearly flat on the day against the greenback at $1.3728, below Friday's high of $1.3825.

The single currency was likely to tread water ahead of Thursday's ECB monetary policy meeting. The ECB could take steps to bolster the region's recovery, as euro zone inflation has been running well below the ECB's target of just under 2 percent.

On the commodities front, U.S. crude was up 14 cents at $103.47, after falling $1.59 on Tuesday. The contract hit its highest level since Sept. 20 on Monday at $105.22.

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange rose 0.4 percent to $7,078 a tonne, after gains of 1.2 percent in the previous session.

Spot gold was nearly flat at $1,336.55 an ounce after dropping 1.2 percent on Tuesday.

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