* MSCI Asia ex-Japan up 0.2 pct, Nikkei falls as much as 1.5 pct
* China official PMI weaker than forecast, improves vs March
* RBA cuts by larger 50 bps, Aussie plunges and shares jump
* Trade subdued as most of Asia, Europe shut for May Day holiday
* Risk aversion pins yen near two-month high vs dollar
By Chikako Mogi
TOKYO, May 1 (Reuters) - Asian shares inched up on Tuesday as Australia’s larger-than-expected rate cut and firm Chinese factory data boosted Australian equities, but concerns about the U.S. economy and the euro zone capped prices in holiday-thinned trade.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.2 percent, after posting just a 0.4 percent gain in April. Most markets in Asia and Europe were closed on Tuesday to mark the May Day holiday.
Financial spreadbetters predicted Britain’s top share index to open up 0.2 percent.
In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei stock average fell 1.4 percent as a stronger yen hurt exporters. Australian shares rose 1.1 percent after the Reserve Bank of Australia slashed rates by 50 basis points against a 25 bps cut forecast. The Australian dollar plunged to the day’s low of $1.0330 after the announcement from around $1.0399.
Australian shares had already been boosted by data showing China’s official purchasing managers’ index (PMI) rose to a 13-month high of 53.3 in April from 53.1 in March.
The Chinese PMI indicated further expansion in the vast factory sector, which could mean more demand for Australian resources, but the index also came in below expectations of 53.6.
“The message is that Chinese manufacturing is growing, not as fast as in years past but faster than in Q4 and enough to achieve the government’s growth target for the year,” said Dariusz Kowalczyk, senior economist and strategist at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong.
“The risk of a hard landing remains manageable and became a bit more remote. This should be positive for sentiment in Asia and globally,” he said.
Beyond Australian shares, there was no specific market reaction, although the Chinese data helped keep copper steady near $8,400 a tonne and provided a bright spot for oil. U.S. crude futures eased 0.1 percent at $104.80 while Brent crude futures were also down 0.1 percent at $119.32 a barrel.
The dollar recovered against a basket of major currencies to 78.733 after falling to a two-month low of 78.638 on Monday when data showed consumers increasing their spending only modestly in March.
Following last week’s softer-than-expected first-quarter GDP, Monday’s reports raised questions about the health of the U.S. economy.
The yen edged back to 79.85 yen against the dollar after touching 79.73 yen on Monday, its highest in more than two months. The current rate is a tad below a 50 percent retracement of the dollar’s climb from this year’s low near 76 yen in early February to a peak around 84 yen hit in mid-March.
The euro was at $1.3253, near one-month high of $1.3270 hit on Friday.
“Market focus is on a slew of developments in Europe this week and key U.S. data,” said Yuji Saito, director of the foreign exchange division at Credit Agricole Bank in Tokyo.
“There is little reason to be too pessimistic about the U.S. data. The Federal Reserve is sounding a bit more hawkish and U.S. interest rates are not plummeting. The dollar looks top-heavy against the yen but I don’t get a sense that it’s headed for a further drop,” he said.
The U.S. ISM manufacturing index on Tuesday and non-farm payrolls figures on Friday will offer investors clues on the shape of the U.S. economy and whether the Fed will have to lean towards offering more support.
The European Central Bank’s policy meeting on Thursday precedes weekend elections in France and Greece that could determine future progress in the euro zone’s austerity efforts, and may prompt the euro to break out of recent ranges.
Investors shunned risk on Monday on concerns austerity measures could further undermine the euro zone’s vulnerable economies as Spain reported its economy sank into recession in the first quarter.
Asia’s exports have also been lacklustre, with data on Tuesday showing South Korea’s April exports fell more than expected, while Taiwan said on Monday its economy edged out of recession in the first quarter but cut its full-year growth forecast for the fourth time and flagged an increased inflation risk.