Asian shares rose on Thursday while surprisingly strong Australian jobs data pushed the Aussie and New Zealand currencies to fresh 14-month peaks and gold hit another record as the U.S. dollar continued to struggle.
The Aussie dollar leapt above $0.90 to its highest level since August last year on news that Australia created more than 40,000 jobs last month -- against expectations for a 10,000 decline.
The data fueled speculation the central bank will raise interest rates again in November after a hike earlier this week.
It's a strong message, if you believe the (job) numbers, that our economy is substantially outperforming the rest of the world, said Stephen Walters, chief economist at JP Morgan in Australia.
Hopes that a global economic recovery is gathering strength
were reinforced by a surprise profit announcement from aluminum producer Alcoa Inc
Australian equities rose 1.6 percent after the jobs data, outperforming a 1.2 percent increase in the MSCI index of Asia Pacific stocks traded outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS>, but South Korea's KOSPI index <.KS11> was flat as caution reigned ahead of a central bank meeting on Friday.
Australia's move on Tuesday to become the first G20 nation to raise rates since the global recession has raised market expectations that South Korea could soon follow suit.
Those expectations were bolstered by improving Korean export and retail sales data on Thursday, which raised the likelihood the Bank of Korea on Friday will either raise rates or lay the ground for future hikes to cool a booming housing market and head off any inflationary pressures.
Traders said the Korean authorities were spotted buying dollars on Thursday to stem a strengthening Korean won, which has been spurred by rate rise expectations.
Japan's Nikkei index <.N225> edged up 0.5 percent, helped by gains in shipping firms after the Baltic Exchange's sea freight index <.BADI> hit a seven-week high on Wednesday, but a strengthening yen kept a lid on exporters' shares and Sony Corp <6758.T> dipped 0.8 percent.
The Thomson Reuters index of regional shares <.TRXFLDAXPU> was 0.4 percent higher.
The Aussie dollar bolted to as high as $.9035 after the job data, up 1.5 percent from Wednesday's levels. It has been the best performer this year among the world's most traded currencies, underpinned by the resilient local economy, higher commodity prices and a pick up in investor appetite for riskier assets.
The New Zealand dollar also scaled fresh 14-month highs as signs Australia's economic recovery is accelerating has boosted confidence in New Zealand and sparked speculation it could also raise interest rates soon.
The Kiwi dollar reached $0.7425 at one point, its highest level since late July 2008.
The U.S. dollar was down 0.5 percent against a basket of currencies <.DXY> and its continued slide encouraged investors to move into gold, which hit a record high for a third straight session, at $1,050.55 an ounce.
The euro strengthened to $1.4756 in Asia, from $1.4681 in New York.
The European Central Bank and the Bank of England were both expected to keep rates unchanged at meetings later on Thursday, but there was speculation that ECB chief Jean-Claude Trichet might complain about the euro's strength.
We do not expect any fireworks from Trichet, although the market will remain sensitive to any comments from him regarding the exchange rate, said Matthew Strauss, senior currency strategist at RBC Capital in Australia.
Wednesday's surge in the Baltic index, which gauges the cost of shipping resources such as cement and grain, was a further indication that global economic recovery may be gathering pace and sent shares of Japanese shipping companies Mitsui OSK Lines <9104.T> and Nippon Yusen KK <9101.T> surging 6.6 percent and 8.2 percent respectively.
Japanese government bonds also rose following a rally in U.S. Treasuries on Wednesday and the yield on 30-year JGBs fell 3 basis points to 2.130 percent, a three-month low on hopes an auction of the maturity will meet fair demand.
(Additional reporting by Anirban Nag in Sydney)
(Editing by Kim Coghill)