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Asian shares rise as US data soothes slowdown fears

MSCI pan-Asia index up 0.2% on overnight Wall Street rally, Dow closed Tuesday at 4-year peak

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Asian shares edged higher and the dollar recovered against the yen on Wednesday after strong US factory activity data eased concerns about a loss of momentum in the world's biggest economy.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.2%, following an overnight rally on Wall Street. The industrial average closed on Tuesday at its highest level in more than four years.

Japan's stock average opened up 0.5%, regaining some ground after falling to a 2-1/2-month closing low on Tuesday. Most markets in Asia and Europe were closed on Tuesday to mark the May Day holiday. Japanese financial markets will be closed for public holidays on Thursday and Friday.

US factory activity grew in April at the strongest rate in 10 months, with the Institute for Supply Management's index rising to 54.8 from 53.4 in March, beating forecasts and easing worries the economy had lost momentum at the start of the second quarter.

The ISM data "points to a mild acceleration in activity in the US manufacturing sector," said ANZ senior economist Amber Rabinov.

"Moreover, the subseries of the release were pleasing, and while we caution that one month's result is not a trend, the report tentatively suggests that the recent softening in growth momentum is now stabilising," Rabinov said.

ISM's gauge of employment also rose to its highest level since last June, coming ahead of the government's nonfarm payrolls report due on Friday, which is forecast to show the economy added 170,000 jobs in April.

Factory activity and jobs data are key to gauging the Federal Reserve's future course of monetary policy as the US central bank is seen leaving the door open for further easing if labour and other economic conditions worsened seriously.

Reduced speculation about the Fed taking on a third round of bond buying to bolster the economy lifted the dollar's appeal against the yen, as the Japanese central bank just last week took more steps to reinforce its already accommodative stance.

The dollar rebounded from a 2-1/2-month low versus the yen of 79.64 yen reached on Tuesday, trading up 0.2% at 80.21 yen on Wednesday.

The euro was off a four-week high of $1.3284 hit on Tuesday, while the Australian dollar stood at $1.0330, near the previous day's low when the currency plunged 0.9% after the Reserve Bank of Australia cut interest rates by a larger-than-expected 50 basis points.

BUSY WEEK

Investors were unlikely to take big risk positions, however, ahead of a meeting on Thursday, Friday's US jobs data and weekend elections in Greece and France.

The ECB is expected to keep interest rates unchanged, but markets will looking for clues on whether it may be open to taking more steps to resolve the euro zone's debt crisis, as well as its view on the bloc's economy after Spain fell into recession in the first quarter.

In Greece and France voters are expected to punish leaders for austerity, after hundreds of thousands of workers across southern Europe protested against spending cuts at May Day rallies on Tuesday.

US crude futures eased 0.3% to $105.85 a barrel on Wednesday, after settling up 1.23% at $106.16 the previous day for its highest settlement since March 27, as positive US data raised hopes for stronger fuel demand. Brent crude rose 19 cents to end at $119.66 a barrel.

Growth worries also retreated on Tuesday when China's Purchasing Managers' Index rose to a 13-month high in April, suggesting the world's second-largest economy may be recovering from a first-quarter trough.

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