(Reuters) - Asian shares inched up Thursday but remained in ranges as investors waited for manufacturing data from China and the euro zone due during this session for more clues about the state of their economies.
The MSCI Asia Pacific ex-Japan index <.MIAPJ0000PUS> was up 0.1 percent while Japan's Nikkei average <.N225> opened down 0.3 percent.
Data from Japan showed the country logged in a trade surplus of 32.9 billion yen in February - the first surplus in five months - against a forecast for a 120 billion yen deficit, lifting the yen against the dollar to about 83.15 yen from 83.44 yen before the data was released.
During Asian hours, key market drivers are Japan's trade data and China's PMI, said Yuji Saito, director of the foreign exchange division at Credit Agricole Bank in Tokyo.
Otherwise, markets will likely continue to consolidate and are more likely to be affected by quarter-end supply and demand flows than headline news, he said, adding that overbought markets will come under selling pressures while oversold assets will see bargain hunting.
Safety preference pushed down U.S. Treasury yields on Wednesday, and given the recent correlation between U.S. debt yields and the dollar, the U.S. currency may be undermined if Treasury yields keep falling, Saito said.
HSBC's flash report on China's factory activity is due at 0230 GMT, and any weak reading could further undermine market sentiment which has been weighed by concerns about slowing growth and demand from the world's second largest economy.
Asian credit markets were subdued early Thursday, with the spread on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment-grade index barely changed.
EUROPE WORRY RESURFACES
While few expect the euro zone's debt crisis to be resolved anytime soon given that the structural reforms crucial to setting their finances back to health require several years, investors were yet again reminded of the long road ahead.
Portugal's core public deficit nearly tripled in the first two months of 2012, showing a deepening economic slump is denting tax collection and stoking concerns the country may miss its budget targets and follow Greece in requiring more rescue funds.
Italian and Spanish debt prices took a beating on Wednesday on concerns about Spain's slow progress in boosting its finances, sending Spanish 10-year bond yields to a one-month high of 5.40 percent and dragging benchmark Italian yields up to a one-week high of 5.0 percent.
Italy faces stiff opposition to its severe austerity measures, with the country's largest trade union calling a general strike over labor reforms on Wednesday.
The euro was steady at $1.3219, but off a two-week high of $1.3286 reached on Wednesday.
On the positive side, Germany's RWI economic institute nearly doubled its 2012 forecast for growth in Europe's largest economy to 1.0 percent due to an improvement in the global outlook and stabilizing financial markets.
The worst of the euro zone crisis is over and the European Central Bank will act if inflation risks grow, ECB President Mario Draghi said in a German newspaper interview released on Thursday.
Investors will now look to manufacturing data in Europe to be released on Thursday, with flash PMI estimates from across the euro zone forecast to show an overall improvement versus February, according to a Reuters poll.
Wednesday's data from the United States was also promising. U.S. home sales fell in February, but upward revisions to the prior month's pace and the first yearly increase in prices in 15 months pointed to steady improvement in the housing market.
Brent oil rose 8 cents to settle at $124.20 a barrel on Wednesday. U.S. crude futures eased 0.3 percent to $106.99 a barrel on Thursday after settling up $1.20.
(Editing by Himani Sarkar)