(Reuters) - Asian shares crept higher Friday as solid U.S. data improved sentiment, but gains may be limited by concerns that rising oil prices could deal a further blow to the fragile euro zone economy and moves to take profits after recent rallies.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> was up 0.2 percent, led by the growth-sensitive technology sector <.MIAPJIT00PUS>. It was set for a weekly loss of 0.2 percent.
Japan's Nikkei average <.N225> rose to a 6-1/2-month high above 9,600 on Friday.
Positive sentiment weighed on the dollar, and in turn supported the euro and commodities from copper to gold. Oil extended gains on heightening concerns about escalating tension between Iran and the West and risks of oil supply disruptions.
While the euro area crisis and high oil prices remain a worry, a better growth backdrop and risk premia that do not appear stretched lead us to look for an environment where global asset markets perform solidly, Barclays Capital analysts said.
U.S. stocks neared peaks not seen since before the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers on Thursday, after data showed U.S. new claims for jobless benefits last week held at the lowest level since the early days of the 2007-2009 recession, and U.S. December home prices rose 0.7 percent, underscoring a recovery in the battered labor and housing markets.
The German Ifo think-tank survey of business sentiment rose to its strongest level in seven months, but the European Commission forecast that economic output in the euro zone would contract 0.3 percent this year, while the wider European Union will stagnate.
The release of European Commission forecasts were a reminder that the euro zone economy is weak and that a considerable debt-payback headwind lies ahead, ANZ Bank said.
The euro rose to its highest in 2- months against the U.S. dollar at $1.3380 on Friday.
A surge in oil prices pushed Brent crude priced in euros to a record high on Thursday, adding to worries that rising fuel costs would damage growth and further undermine euro zone debt restructuring efforts.
Brent futures valued in euros hit a record 93.60 euros per barrel on Thursday, exceeding the previous peak of 93.
Dollar-denominated Brent hit a fresh nine-month high, settling at $123.62 a barrel on Thursday, still well short of 2008's record $147 a barrel. Brent extended gains on Friday, up 0.3 percent to $123.95 a barrel. U.S. crude rose further on Friday, rising 0.6 percent to $108.45.
Iran remained defiant after U.N. nuclear inspectors failed to check activities at a site where the International Energy Agency said there is a facility to test explosives, sparking fears Iran's confrontation with the West would escalate and affect oil flow from the Middle East.
Higher oil prices raise inflation expectations in the United States, lowering real interest rates and undermining the dollar, said Junya Tanase, chief currency strategist at JPMorgan Chase in Tokyo.
There is a fairly strong correlation between oil price and U.S. inflation expectations. The dollar has been rather resilient during the recent 'risk-on' mode, lifting dollar/yen above our forecast, but this strength may see a correction if oil prices and inflation expectations stay elevated, he said.
Tanase noted the risk of the euro falling against the yen in the short-term if more negative news on Greece emerged.
The dollar was off a seven-month high against the yen hit earlier in the week of 80.40 yen. The euro gained 0.2 percent against the yen at 107.13 yen.
Copper was up slightly at $8,394.25 a tonne and gold was off three-month highs but steady near $1,778 an ounce.
With equities firming, sentiment in Asian credit markets also improved, narrowing spreads on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment-grade index by a couple of basis points.
(Editing by Alex Richardson)