Japanese shares hit a four-month high, leading gains in Asian stocks on growing investor optimism about the global economy, while the U.S. dollar held firm against the yen and euro.

Signs of a recovery in the United States also lifted oil prices to a four-week high.

European stock index futures pointed to a higher open, as stocks track gains in Asia and in commodities, with futures for the DJ Euro Stoxx, for Germany's DAX and for France's CAC were up 0.9-1.1 percent.

The MSCI index of Asia Pacific stocks outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> rose just over 0.7 percent in thin trade as markets in Australia and New Zealand remained shut for holidays.

The Thomson Reuters index of Asia ex-Japan equities was up 0.6 percent <.TRXFLDAXPU>.

The MSCI index has rallied 65 percent this year, driven by waves of foreign capital inflows trying to cash in on Asia's faster-than-expected economic recovery.

By contrast, the Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> has risen 20 percent while the FTSEurofirst 300 index <.FTEU3> of leading European shares has gained almost 25 percent.

Chinese stocks led gains, with the Shanghai Composite Index <.SSEC> jumping 1.7 percent, lifted by Premier Wen Jiabao's comments on Sunday that Beijing was committed to seeing through its stimulus package to help cement the economic recovery.

The Shanghai index has gained 5 percent after falling to a seven-week low on Tuesday.

Wen's comments ... gave the market the impression that China's loose money policy will not change at least for the first quarter of next year, said a senior dealer at a big Chinese stockbroker.

In addition, both the economy and corporate earnings are improving. Investors feel assured of a decent stock market performance at least early next year.


Japan's Nikkei average <.N225> rose 1 percent to its highest in four months on data showing factory output rising for the ninth straight month in November and on stable currency moves.

The industrial output data was stronger than what the market had expected and that's reinforcing the positive sentiment. The stable dollar/yen moves are also making it easier to pick up exporter shares, said Tsuyoshi Segawa, equity strategist at Mizuho Securities.

Japan's industrial output rose a more-than-expected 2.6 percent in November, the strongest gain in six months as rising exports to Asia bode well for a recovering economy.

That followed upbeat U.S. data on Thursday which showed a drop in initial jobless claims and growth in durable goods orders.

Meanwhile, Japanese government bond futures slid, taking in stride the government's announcement late last week that it plans to issue a record 144.3 trillion yen in treasury debt in the next fiscal year.

U.S. and European markets were shut on Friday for Christmas

after closing at their highest in over a year on Thursday.

The dollar hovered near 91.50 yen, little changed from Thursday's close and was below a two-month high of 91.88 yen set last week as investors covered short dollar positions before the year-end.

The euro edged up to $1.4390, off its 3- month low of 1.4216 hit last week.

The euro is down 4 percent against the dollar so far this month and on course for its biggest monthly fall since January, dented by concerns about sovereign ratings after a third ratings agency downgraded Greece's debt.

U.S. crude oil for February delivery gained 0.8 percent to $78.68 a barrel, highest since December 1 supported also by large declines in U.S. crude inventories.

Gold prices gained up 0.9 percent to $1,113.45 in thin trade.

(Additional reporting by Lu Jianxin in SHANGHAI; Editing by Jan Dahinten)