Asian shares inch higher on solid China trade data

TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares edged up on Friday after China's trade data for January handily beat forecasts to underscore a recovery trend, but prices were capped by investors seeking to book profits before next week's Chinese new year holidays.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> edged up 0.2 percent, wiping earlier losses when bearish sentiment was carried over from overnight after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi noted risks still facing the euro zone economy. The pan-Asian index rose to a 18-month high on Monday.

China said its exports grew 25.0 percent in January from a year ago, the strongest showing since April 2011 and well ahead of market expectations for a 17 percent rise, while imports also beat forecasts, surging 28.8 percent on the year.

"China's economic conditions are improving and the trade data confirms the continuation of a recovery trend. Not just the trade data but retail, production and investment flows clearly show that the economy bottomed out in the third quarter last year," said Hirokazu Yuihama, a senior strategist at Daiwa Securities in Tokyo.

U.S. stocks edged lower while disappointing results from French drugmaker Sanofi sent European shares down to 2013 closing lows.

Australian shares rose 0.5 percent while South Korean shares <.ks11> climbed 0.6 percent, on track to reverse six losing sessions as investors bought up auto shares after recent declines.

Japan's Nikkei stock average <.n225> fell 1.4 percent as investors took profits from the index's surge to a its highest level since October 2008 on Wednesday. <.t/>

"Asian markets are undergoing a pre-holiday adjustment, keeping prices top-heavy, with many opting to book profits. Prices have gained sharply over the past months, so a correction is healthy. But the upward trend in Asian equities markets remains intact," Daiwa's Yuihama said.


The euro was off its two-week lows hit the previous session as investors took Draghi's comments as signalling concerns about the euro and Europe's growth outlook, boosting the dollar <.dxy> to a one-month high against a basket of key currencies.

The euro edged up 0.1 percent to $1.3410, after slumping to a two-week low of $1.33705 on Thursday, but still below a 14-1/2-month high against of $1.3711 hit last week.

The ECB kept interest rates at a record low 0.75 percent at its policy meeting on Thursday. Draghi said the ECB will monitor the economic impact of a strengthening euro, feeding expectations the currency's climb could open the door to an interest rate cut.

While Draghi said the exchange rate was not a policy target but is important for growth and price stability, he also noted the euro's appreciation was a sign of returning confidence in the currency.

Spain sold more debt than planned on Thursday, auctioning over 18 percent of its full-year medium- and long-term funding target. The strong demand indicated easing worries about Madrid's financing ability despite political uncertainty over a corruption scandal.

The yen remained near lows against the dollar and the euro.

Data showed on Friday Japan logged a current account deficit for a second straight month in December, resulting in its smallest annual surplus on record in 2012, with evidence of deteriorating trade balances supporting the yen's weakening trend.

"Japan will remain a nation of current account surpluses but the surplus will not be as high as it used to be," said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute in Tokyo.

The dollar eased 0.1 percent to 93.53 yen after reaching 94.075 yen, its highest since May 2010 on Wednesday. The euro inched up 0.1 percent to 125.43 yen, having hit its strongest since April 2010 of 127.71 yen on Wednesday.

"Currencies are increasingly becoming part of the policy debate...In the case of the EUR, we believe that the bullish 'overshooting' trend will remain intact as ECB policy continues to promote an asset market friendly environment," Morgan Stanley said in a note.

Morgan Stanley added that the anticipation of the Bank of Japan taking bolder easing steps is set to keep the weak yen trend going, supporting global risk appetite.

U.S. crude futures and Brent were both up 0.2 percent to $96.01 a barrel and $117.48 respectively.

London copper added 0.5 percent to $8,241 a tonne.

(Editing by Eric Meijer)

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