* MSCI Asia ex-Japan hits six-week highs
* Gold jumps on strong physical demand, ETFs keeps declining
* BOJ confirms commitment to bold policy
* Dollar eases as markets await Q1 GDP figure
* European shares seen falling
By Chikako Mogi
TOKYO, April 26 (Reuters) - Asian shares rose on Friday, tracking global equities higher after an upbeat U.S. labour market report, while the dollar eased on caution ahead of first quarter growth data from the world’s biggest economy.
European stock markets were seen falling, with financial spreadbetters predicting London’s FTSE 100, Paris’s CAC-40 and Frankfurt’s DAX would open down as much as 0.5 percent. U.S. stock futures were down 0.2 percent, also hinting at a soft Wall street open.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.2 percent, trimming earlier gains that took the index up to a six-week high, as investors turned their attention toward corporate earnings.
The pan-Asian index was set for a weekly gain of 2.3 percent, its best showing since early January.
Hong Kong shares led regional bourses with a 1 percent climb to their highest since mid-March, as a recovery in physical commodity prices helped magnify earnings-driven strength in Chinese financial and energy majors.
“Some individual companies are starting to show they are not doing too badly, so this might be a good time for value investors to start accumulating some positions,” said Larry Jiang, chief strategist at Guotai Junan International Securities.
Australian shares were little changed as gains early in the session were lost with the retreat in gold prices which rose more than 1 percent earlier in the day.
But an inflow of capital due to offshore demand from Japanese institutions and insurance firms to Australia’s high-yielding shares in telecommunications and banks has helped lift the market in recent sessions, said Tim Radford, global analyst at Sydney-based advisor Rivkin.
South Korean shares edged down 0.2 percent as the market took a breather from the week’s relief-rally after the country’s top exporters posted better-than-expected results.
Japan’s Nikkei stock average was also nearly flat, retreating from Thursday’s climb that put the index at its highest since June 2008. A firmer yen also dented sentiment. Japanese markets will be closed on Monday for a holiday.
Although it is still early in the quarterly reporting season, only two out of the 16 Nikkei companies that have reported so far beat market expectations, data from Thomson Reuters StarMine showed.
Overnight U.S. S&P 500 rose 0.4 percent, driven by stronger-than-expected earnings and the large drop in weekly jobless claims.
The Bank of Japan kept monetary policy steady on Friday, a widely expected move after it unveiled aggressive stimulus measures earlier this month aimed at achieving its 2 percent inflation target in two years.
The dollar, which has been pressured against the yen throughout the session by profit-taking and yen-buying by Japanese exporters, dipped slightly after the BOJ’s decision.
“The BOJ outcome was as expected, and players may have used that as an excuse to sell the dollar to make room for dollar buying after the GDP figure,” said Yuji Saito, director of foreign exchange at Credit Agricole in Tokyo. “If the GDP figure is below forecasts, dollar selling may accelerate.”
The BOJ on April 4 shocked financial markets by announcing a radical monetary expansion campaign aimed at ending stubborn deflation and reviving growth. The central bank’s strong reflationary policy commitment has further weakened the yen and underpinned the dollar, lifting it close to the symbolic 100 yen mark earlier this month.
But recent weak U.S. data has slowed the dollar’s progress. The dollar fell 0.8 percent to 98.46 yen.
U.S. first-quarter gross domestic product is forecast to have grown 3 percent. If the number falls short of the 3 percent mark, it could stoke concerns about loss of momentum as the impact of automatic spending cuts kicks in.
The euro was up 0.2 percent at $1.3037, moving away from a three-week low of $1.2954.
Expectations of a rate cut by the European Central Bank at its meeting next week weighed on the euro.
Market belief that global monetary stimulus will remain in place helped risk asset markets rebound from a sharp sell-off earlier this month, triggered by disappointing U.S. and Chinese manufacturing data which raised concerns about slowing momentum in the world’s top two economies.
Spot gold rose 0.4 percent at $1,473.46 an ounce, recovering much of the loss it incurred in the massive sell-off two weeks ago and was headed for its biggest weekly gain in one-and-a-half years as bargain-hunters and physical buyers across Asia supported prices.
“There’s panic buying. Everybody is buying gold. It still has a chance to go up to $1,500 and maybe a bit more. $1,525 is then the big barrier,” said Ronald Leung, chief dealer at Lee Cheong Gold Dealers in Hong Kong.
But a daily drop in exchange-traded funds’ holdings suggested that gold investors were still wary after this month’s slide which shocked ardent gold investors and bulls.
U.S. crude fell 0.8 percent at $92.94 a barrel and Brent fell 0.5 percent to $102.85.