Asian stocks tread water ahead of US jobs data

Asian stocks lingered near three-year highs on Thursday as investors waited for the U.S. nonfarm payrolls report to see if the economy is gaining momentum.

Tokyo: Asian stocks lingered near three-year highs on Thursday as investors waited for the U.S. nonfarm payrolls report to see if the economy is gaining momentum.

Spreadbetters saw a mixed open for Europe, forecasting Britain`s FTSE to open up as much as 0.1 percent higher, Germany`s DAX 0.1 percent lower and France`s CAX effectively flat.

Expectations rose on Wednesday after payrolls processor ADP said U.S. private-sector hiring hit a 1-1/2-year high in June.

The upbeat ADP report heightened expectations that June U.S. nonfarm payrolls due at 1230 GMT would show the American economy was picking up speed after a dismal start to the year, helping boost demand for metals such as zinc and copper.

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange rose to as high as USD 7,145 a tonne, its highest level since late February.

"People were saying, `What is cheap in the world?` They figured out the metals were cheap and if things accelerated a little bit, why not take a position?" said analyst Dominic Schnider of UBS Wealth Management in Singapore.

Asian equity markets were little changed, with MSCI`s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan steady after inching up to briefly touch a new three-year peak.

Tokyo`s Nikkei flitted in and out of negative territory, although analysts expected a positive U.S. jobs data reading to make up for any modest losses.

"If the data shows that the U.S. economy is in good health, Japanese shares in the auto and technology sector will likely be bought," said Hikaru Sato, a senior technical analyst at Daiwa Securities in Tokyo.

A Reuters poll forecast non-farm payroll gains of 212,000.

The data will be released on Thursday because U.S. markets are closed for Independence Day on Friday, the day the report is usually released.

Investors are also keeping an eye on a European Central Bank meeting later on Thursday, although market participants do not expect the ECB to do much after it eased policy last month.

The focus was on whether the ECB mentions quantitative easing or verbally warns against the strength of the euro, which has crawled higher against the dollar despite last month`s easing.

The dollar inched up 0.1 percent to 101.87 yen, helped after the benchmark U.S. Treasury yield rose to a 1-1/2 week high on the strong ADP report.

The euro stood little-changed at USD 1.3648 after shedding 0.15 percent overnight.

The Australian dollar fell 0.7 percent to USD 0.9382, after the central bank warned that investors were underestimating the risk of a sharp fall in the currency. It was knocked down from an eight-month peak the previous day on disappointing trade data.

In commodities, crude oil extended losses after falling the previous day on encouraging signs of supply from Libya and Iraq.

U.S. light crude fell 0.4 percent to USD 104.07 per barrel.

Gold also slipped amid the possibility of bullish U.S. jobs data denting the appeal of the safe-haven metal.

Spot gold fell 0.3 percent to USD 1,323.55 an ounce, pulling back from a 3-month high of USD 1,332.10 hit earlier this week as tensions in Iraq and Ukraine stoked safe-haven demand.