The Australian dollar surged on Thursday after November jobs growth blew away expectations, while Asian stocks posted small gains ahead of a slew of Chinese economic data on Friday expected to reflect robust growth.
The euro was steady against the dollar and rose against the yen, though sovereign credit rating risks were just below the surface. Standard & Poor's cut its outlook on Spain to negative, two days after Fitch downgraded Greece's debt rating.
Hong Kong stocks rose 1 percent <.HSI>, standing out in an otherwise quiet session, after China said it would extend to next year efforts to boost domestic consumption.
Japan's Nikkei share average <.N225> was steady, though it is up 4.7 percent on the month, outperforming the S&P 500, which is flat in December.
A 3.8 percent fall in the shares of Suzuki Motor <7269.T> was the third-largest drag on the Nikkei as dealers questioned the stock's high valuation despite optimism surrounding an alliance with Volkswagen.
Indeed, Suzuki is trading at about 1.5 times its 12-month forward book value, above the industry average of 1 times, Thomson Reuters Starmine shows.
We believe the firm will benefit from the technology alliance with Volkswagen, but anticipation of tie-up news has already driven its valuation... considerably higher (than those of its Japanese rivals), said Morgan Stanley analyst Noriaki Hirakawa.
The MSCI index of Asia Pacific stocks outside Japan edged up 0.4 percent <.MIAPJ0000PUS>, with the energy sector providing the biggest lift.
The Thomson Reuters index of Asia ex-Japan equities was also up 0.6 percent <.TRXFLDAXPU>.
Currency markets were dominated by news on the Australian and New Zealand dollars.
The Australian dollar rose 0.75 percent to US$0.9151, near the middle of a $0.89 to $0.94 range carved out in the last two months.
Employment data showed Australia's economy in November generated 31,200 jobs, exceeding a median forecast of a gain of 5,000 and the unemployment rate fell to 5.7 percent. The data supported the case for more interest rate increases by Australia's central bank.
The fact that expectations for the employment release were so comprehensively exceeded suggests that there is yet to be full agreement on the momentum in the economy that will ensure the (Reserve Bank of Australia) stays the course and continues to unwind the accommodative settings of monetary policy, Patrick Bennett, Asia foreign exchange and rates strategist at Societe Generale in Hong Kong, said in a note.
The New Zealand dollar gained 0.8 percent to US$0.7246 after the Reserve Bank of New Zealand signaled it could start raising interest rates as early as April next year.
U.S. crude for January delivery rose 46 cents to $71.13 a barrel after settling at a two-month low on Wednesday, down for six straight sessions.
(Editing by Neil Fullick)