GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian shares inch higher, dollar at fresh highs vs yen
* MSCI Asia ex-Japan edges higher, takes China data in stride
* Nikkei hits fresh 4-1/2-year high
* Dollar touches 3-1/2-year peak against yen
* China exports beat forecasts
TOKYO, March 8 (Reuters) - Gains in U.S. stocks on solid data and Chinese exports beating forecast underpinned investor risk sentiment, boosting the dollar to a fresh 3-1/2-year peak against the yen and nudging up Asian shares on Friday.
Following the release of U.S. nonfarm payrolls, China said February exports grew 21.8 percent from a year earlier, more than double the rise forecast, while imports fell 15.2 percent, deeper than an 8.8 percent drop forecast.
"The growth in exports probably reflected an improving global economic environment, including the United States, while the drop in imports is likely distorted by the effect from the Lunar Year holidays during the month," said Hirokazu Yuihama, a senior strategist at Daiwa Securities in Tokyo.
"The fall in imports does not suggest weakness in domestic demand and the trade data overall doesn't change the outlook for a moderate recovery in China," he said.
The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.2 percent, barely moved by the Chinese data.
Australian shares added 0.3 percent while the Australian dollar briefly rose after the Chinese data to around $1.0265 before easing to trade down 0.2 percent at 1.0244. New Zealand shares earlier hit a record high.
Hong Kong shares rose 0.9 percent while Shanghai shares was nearly flat, erasing earlier gains.
Prices were capped as investors cautiously awaited key U.S. jobs due later in the session for further signs of strength in the world's largest economy. Analysts expect a rise of 160,000 jobs in February.
Thursday's report showed the number of Americans filing new jobless claims benefits fell unexpectedly last week, indicating a steady economic improvement.
Friday's payrolls report is key to gauging the U.S. Federal Reserve's policy course as the Fed will keep its near-zero rate stance until the unemployment rate falls to 6.5 percent, as long as inflation does not threaten to top 2.5 percent.
"The U.S. nonfarm payrolls report will be the biggest event risk over the next 24-hours of trading and the data may increase the appeal of the dollar as job growth is expected to pick up in February," said David Song, currency analyst at DailyFX.
The recent string of positive U.S. economic data drove U.S. stocks higher, pushing the Dow Jones industrial average to an intraday record for a third consecutive session on Thursday and boosting the dollar against the yen to a fresh 3-1/2-year high of 95.28 on Friday.
Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 2.1 percent to scale its highest since September 2008.
The yen has come under renewed selling pressure as the dollar is increasingly bought on signs of a strengthening U.S. economy while expectations remain firmly in place for the Bank of Japan to take bold reflationary measures when a new leadership takes over later this month.
The yen extended its decline against the euro to a low of 124.21 yen earlier on Friday, before inching back up to 124.67.
PATCHY GLOBAL ECONOMY
After keeping interest rates steady as expected at its meeting on Thursday, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi suggested the bank was not in a hurry to act while noting that any threat of contagion to other euro zone members from Italy's inconclusive election results was muted.
The euro rallied more than 1 percent against the dollar on Thursday after Draghi's comments, and has kept much of the gains on Friday, trading at $1.3091.
As U.S. equities firmed, U.S. Treasuries prices remained weak in Asia on Friday, keeping the benchmark U.S. 10-year Treasury yield at 1.997 percent.
Japan's economy stabilised in the fourth quarter after two quarters of a shallow recession, revised data showed on Friday, but a third consecutive monthly current account deficit in January showed an anticipated recovery was slow in coming.
Southeast Asian bourses remained relatively solid, with Indonesia advancing further to reach a record high for a third straight session.
Foreigners have raised their investment in Indonesia's government bond market to record levels this year, while also pitching into the stock market, betting that Jakarta will be more concerned about accepting inflows to fill a gaping current account deficit than imposing controls that might support its shaky currency by limiting outflows.
U.S. crude fell 0.3 percent to $91.32 a barrel and Brent also fell 0.3 percent to $110.77.