TOKYO Asian stocks pulled ahead on Friday after patches of U.S. data continued to paint the world's largest economy in a positive light, while the dollar was on the defensive against its major peers.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS gained 0.2 percent to a two-week high. The index was on track to gain 2.3 percent this week.
Japan's Nikkei .N225 nudged up 0.4 percent, buoyed by prospects of Tokyo delaying a sales tax hike.
The Dow .DJI inched down 0.1 percent and the S&P 500 .SPX ended flat overnight after rising strongly for two days as advancing utilities offset declines in materials, banks and other cyclical industries.
U.S. data released on Thursday showed durable goods orders, pending home sales and initial jobless claims coming in strong, while capital goods orders and the Kansas City Fed manufacturing survey were weak.
The dollar index was nearly flat at 95.108 .DXY after slipping 0.3 percent overnight, pulling away from a two-month high of 95.661 scaled on Wednesday.
The greenback had rallied earlier in the week on growing expectations the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates as soon as June or July, supported by a series of comments from Fed officials seemingly backing such a move.
The financial markets are now looking to U.S. first quarter GDP release and comments from Fed Chair Janet Yellen at a Harvard University-sponsored event later on Friday.
"Given the uniformity of comments from policymakers, we don't think Yellen will throw cold water on rate hike expectations and could in fact reinforce them," wrote Kathy Lien, managing director of FX strategy at BK Asset Management.
"Economists are also looking for first quarter GDP growth to be revised higher so today's pullback in the dollar should be temporary."
The Australian dollar extended gains after rising overnight on a modest upgrade in domestic capex data. The Aussie, which fell to a near three-month low of $0.7145 on Tuesday amid a slide in commodities, was last up 0.1 percent at $0.7230 AUD=D4.
In commodities, crude oil went into consolidation mode after prices hit $50 a barrel overnight for the first time in seven months.
Brent crude LCOc1 was down 0.1 percent at $49.52 a barrel after surging to as high as $50.51 on Thursday.
Wildfires in Canada's oil sands, unrest in the Nigerian and Libyan energy sectors, and a near economic meltdown in OPEC member Venezuela have knocked out nearly 4 million barrels per day in immediate production, sparking a buying frenzy in crude futures.
(Editing by Shri Navaratnam)
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Updated Date: May 27, 2016 07:15 AM