By Shinichi Saoshiro
TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian shares edged up to a four-month high on Thursday as receding worries of near-term U.S. interest rate hikes continued to buoy investors' appetite for riskier assets.
But spreadbetters forecast a slightly lower open for Britain's FTSE <.FTSE>, Germany's DAX <.GDAXI> & France's CAC <.FCHI>, with sliding crude oil prices expected to prevent European stocks from extending the previous day's rally.
p>The dollar hovered near seven-week lows versus the euro, still gripped by cautious comments from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen earlier in the week on monetary tightening.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.1 percent, briefly reaching its highest since early December.
The index was poised to eke out a gain of 1 percent this quarter, which saw equities rocked earlier by global growth worries, & particularly for the Chinese economy.
Japan's Nikkei <.N225> rose 0.2 percent, on track for an 11 percent loss on the quarter as the yen firmed against the flagging dollar, while Australian stocks <.AXJO> added 1.5 percent.
Shanghai shares <.SSEC> climbed 0.5 percent, en route to a quarterly drop of approximately 15 percent.
Risk appetite has increased since Fed Chair Yellen said on Tuesday that the U.S. central bank should proceed cautiously as it looks to hike rates, pushing back against some colleagues who have suggested another move may be just around the corner.
"Fed Chair Janet Yellen's speech earlier this week is still dragging the dollar down, sparking risk appetite globally," said Kim Moon-il, a foreign exchange analyst at Eugene Futures in Seoul.
Yellen's views were echoed by Chicago Fed President Charles Evans, who said on Wednesday there was a high hurdle to raising rates in April, given low inflation.
Following such cautious views from top Fed officials, the Dow <.DJI> climbed 0.5 percent & the S&P 500 <.SPX> rose 0.4 percent overnight.
The CBOE Market Volatility Index <.VIX>, Wall Street's "fear gauge", ended down 1.9 percent at its lowest level since August. [.N]
"Global markets are likely to be dominated by month- & quarter-end flows today as markets await tomorrow's U.S. Institute of Supply Management data, non-farm payrolls & global purchasing managers' indexes, particularly that of China," wrote strategists at ANZ.
In currencies, the euro fetched $1.1315 <EUR=>, not far from Wednesday's seven-week peak of $1.1365. The usual currency was set for a 4 percent quarterly rise.
The dollar dipped 0.1 percent to 112.355 yen <JPY=>, headed for 6.6 percent drop this quarter that saw the safe-haven Japanese currency benefit during bouts of global risk aversion.
The greenback's recent weakness has been a boon to the Australian & New Zealand dollars, which both soared to nine-month highs.
Crude oil prices dipped after U.S. government data showed crude inventories were again at all-time peaks despite strong refinery runs. U.S. crude <CLc1> was down 1.4 percent at $37.78 a barrel & Brent <LCOc1> lost 1.2 percent to $38.81.
Oil prices, which fell to 12-year lows earlier this year, have risen approximately 50 percent since mid-February after major producers floated the idea of freezing production at January's highs. Some analysts say the rally has breached fundamentals & crude could trade lower. [O/R]
Copper slid as concerns over slowing Chinese demand mounted ahead of Friday's China official purchasing managers' index release. Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange <CMCU3> slid to as low as $4,829.50 per tonne, the lowest since March 3. [MET/L]
(Reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro; Additional reporting by Dahee Kim in Seoul; Editing by Eric Meijer & Kim Coghill)
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