FOREX-Dollar gains on data, NZ dollar hits over 2-1/2-year high

* U.S. jobless data stronger than expected

* ECB comments continue to weigh on euro

* New Zealand dollar hits more than 2-1/2-year high

(Updates prices, adds analyst comments)

NEW YORK, March 27 (Reuters) - The dollar edged higher against the euro and the yen on Thursday after upbeat U.S. employment data, while the New Zealand dollar hit its highest in more than 2-1/2 years on economic data and hints the country's central bank could raise interest rates.

The U.S. Labor Department said initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 311,000 last week, the lowest since November and better than economists' expectations.

The data supported the view that the Federal Reserve will continue on its expected path of cutting monthly asset purchases and potentially raising short-term U.S. interest rates earlier than expected.

Traders viewed the likelihood of the Fed tightening its monetary stimulus, which Fed Chair Janet Yellen suggested at a press conference last week, as more favorable than comments from European Central Bank policymakers on Tuesday, which took the opposite path and hinted at a softening of monetary policy.

The ECB holds its next policy meeting on April 3.

"The U.S. labor market combined with a significant amount of signaling by ECB officials regarding further easing combined to strengthen the dollar and weaken the euro," said Sebastien Galy, currency strategist at Societe Generale in New York.

The Commerce Department, meanwhile, said U.S. fourth-quarter gross domestic product rose at a 2.6 percent annual rate, up from the 2.4 percent pace it estimated last month but slightly under the 2.7 percent analyst forecast. Some traders said the upward revision supported the dollar's strength.

The dollar also edged higher against the Japanese yen. Traders said the Bank of Japan could be poised for a fresh round of stimulus despite having announced its unprecedented $1.4 trillion monetary boost in April of last year. More monetary stimulus would further weaken the yen.

"Japan could still go a lot further in terms of what they're doing," said Douglas Borthwick, managing director at Chapdelaine Foreign Exchange in New York, in reference to the Bank of Japan's quantitative easing.

The U.S. dollar index, which measures the dollar against six major currencies, was last up 0.11 percent at 80.118. The euro was last down 0.24 percent against the dollar at $1.3748, while the dollar was last up 0.11 percent against the Japanese yen at 102.15 yen.

The dollar was also up 0.15 percent against the Swiss franc to trade at 0.8864 franc.

The New Zealand dollar hit a more than 2-1/2-year high of $0.8686 after a sharp rise in the country's trade surplus for February and a policymaker's comments signaling that the country could tighten monetary policy further.

Reserve Bank of New Zealand Deputy Governor Grant Spencer said the limits on low-deposit, high-risk home loans were worth up to 50 basis points in interest rate hikes, which began to rise from record lows this month.

He also said the lending limits, imposed in October, had reduced upwards pressure on the New Zealand dollar, and stressed that they were not intended to be permanent.

"People are thinking the next steps are going to be a rate rise," said Borthwick of Chapdelaine.

(Additional reporting by Patrick Graham in London; Editing by James Dalgleish)