* MSCI Asia ex-Japan near 2013 lows hit earlier in the week
* Weak euro zone data, Cyprus default fears dent sentiment
* Nikkei tumbles 1.7 pct, retreating from 4-1/2-year highs
* Gold hovers near 1-month high
* European shares likely inch lower
By Chikako Mogi
TOKYO, March 22 Asian shares hovered near 2013
lows and gold stayed close to a one-month high on Friday as
Cyprus scrambled to find a solution to its funding crisis and
concern over the health of the euro zone mounted.
European markets were seen carrying over Asia's cautious
tone, with financial spreadbetters predicting London's FTSE 100
, Paris's CAC-40 and Frankfurt's DAX to
open down as much as 0.2 percent. U.S. stock futures were
flat to point to a subdued Wall Street start.
The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside
Japan inched down 0.3 percent, nearing the
lowest level in three months struck earlier this week. The
pan-Asian index was set for a weekly loss of nearly 1.7 percent.
The European Union gave Cyprus till Monday to raise the
billions of euros it needs to secure an international bailout or
face a collapse of its financial system that could push it out
of the euro currency zone.
Market sentiment was further soured by data showing signs of
fatigue in Germany, the region's leading economy, and French
businesses turning in their worst performance in four years in
March. France, the euro zone's second-biggest economy, likely
fell into a recession.
Investors will turn to Germany's Ifo business climate index
for March due at 0900 GMT for further clues on the health of
Europe's largest economy.
"The deterioration in the euro zone's economic activities
is worrisome as it weakens the foundation on which the region's
departure from crisis hinges on," said Naohiro Niimura, a
partner at research and consulting firm Market Risk Advisory in
"Weakness in Germany in particular is a concern as it shows
fiscal austerity is eroding its growth too."
The dollar held steady against a basket of major currencies
while spot gold held near the one-month high of
$1,616.36 an ounce touched on Thursday, supported by demand for
safe-haven assets from nervous investors.
"Gold is likely to stay firm in the short term thanks to
Cyprus," said Li Ning, an analyst at Shanghai CIFCO Futures.
"Though Cyprus is a small economy, there are concerns about
the risk of contagion if the crisis there doesn't get solved
Australian shares inched up 0.2 percent and snapped
a four-day losing run as investors bought beaten-down banking
stocks, but that didn't prevent the market from sliding to its
biggest weekly loss in almost a year.
Japan's Nikkei stock average tumbled 2.4 percent,
after hitting a 4-1/2-year high on Thursday.
Foreign investors bought 5.83 trillion yen worth of Japanese
equities in the past 18 weeks through March 16, data showed on
Friday, surpassing 5.80 trillion yen in their 19 straight weeks
of net buying from late 2005 to early 2006, as they bet on
pledges by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to take aggressive
reflationary measures to bolster Japan's growth.
The dollar eased 0.2 percent to 94.69 yen, nearing
Thursday's low of 94.54 yen. The dollar fell more than 1 percent
on Thursday when investors trimmed their bearish bet on the
Japanese currency after the new Bank of Japan governor played
down the chances of an emergency meeting.
The euro steadied around $1.2900, holding off a
four-month low of $1.2844 hit on Tuesday.
U.S. crude futures rose 0.1 percent to $92.52 a
barrel while Brent was steady around $107.47.