EMERGING MARKETS-Stocks, FX in flux before U.S. jobless claims, China GDP

* MSCI EM stocks down 0.3%, currencies down 0.2%

* South African rand rises after three days of losses

* Sentiment hit by weak U.S. overnight data

April 16 (Reuters) - Emerging markets in Europe and the Middle East made small gains on Thursday, while their Asian counterparts fell after the International Monetary Fund forecast no economic growth in Asia for 2020.

Investors held off large trades before economic data from the United States and China -- weekly jobless claims and first- quarter gross domestic product -- which is expected to further reflect the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dismal retail sales and industrial output from the United States, released overnight, underscored the toll of curbing business activity over extended periods, with the readings in April only set to be worse.

The MSCI’s developing world stocks index fell about 0.3%. Currencies dipped 0.2%.

Some optimism persisted over the coronavirus slowing in its U.S. and European epicentres, but it still looked as if it would ravage the global economy in the medium term. The IMF forecast Asia’s annual economic growth would grind to a halt for the first time in 60 years.

“Any recovery in risk sentiment depends on how quickly economies can re-open without risking overloading their healthcare systems and, most of all, not risking any chance of a secondary spread,” said Stephen Innes, chief global markets strategist at AxiCorp.

“The risk of escalating economic damage is putting enormous stress on governments under immense pressure to relax social-distancing measures sooner, rather than later.”

South Africa’s rand edged up after three days of losses. Stocks in the country added about 0.5%. Still, the country was set for a deep recession in 2020, with the coronavirus serving to further unsettle an already shaky economy.

The Polish zloty fell against the dollar, while stocks in the country traded sideways. Inflation in Central Europe’s largest economy declined less than expected in March, data showed on Wednesday.

The Saudi Arabian riyal traded flat. Stocks in the oil exporter dropped 1.6% as oil prices recovered from 18-year lows, although fears remained over waning demand.

China’s yuan slipped ahead of the GDP data on Friday. Stocks inched higher.

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