Japanese stocks rallied on Thursday as investors snapped up shares of big exporters after the dollar hit two-week highs against the yen, but markets elsewhere in Asia were more subdued ahead of the influential U.S. non-farm payrolls report.
Copper climbed 1 percent to a high of $9,654.25 a tonne, bringing the all-time high of $9,754 struck on Tuesday back in sight, after an ADP report on Wednesday showed a record 297,000 U.S. private sector jobs were created in December.
It was the clearest signal in months that a recovery in the world's biggest economy was shifting up a gear and prompted analysts to raise their forecasts for the closely watched non-farm payrolls data due on Friday.
Estimates now center on an increase of 175,000 jobs, up from 140,000 in an earlier Reuters survey.
While some analysts were skeptical of the size of the jump in the ADP job report, it does follow a string of recent upbeat U.S. data showing the economy is picking up steam.
Markets will now wait for U.S. payrolls on Friday for confirmation of the strong trend, said Hiroaki Osakabe, a fund manager at Chibagin Asset Management in Tokyo. But investors will then focus on how the U.S. data will impact the dollar/yen rate.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index <.N225> rose 1.4 percent and closed above the psychologically important barrier of 10,500. It ended at its best level since May 2010.
Major exporters including Canon Inc <7751.T> and Toyota Motors <7203.T> climbed more than 1 percent.
MSCI's index for Asia Pacific stocks excluding Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> edged up 0.1 percent, having drifted in and out of negative territory.
Earlier this week, technical indicators showed it was close to being overbought after a strong end-2010 rally, making investors wary that markets were due for a pullback.
South Korea's KOSPI <.KS11> fell 0.2 percent, China's Shanghai Composite index <.SSEC> shed 0.6 percent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng index <.HSI> was flat.
Australia's S&P/ASX 200 index <.AXJO> closed 0.2 percent higher as some mining shares recovered from an earlier fall, helping the index bounce off a one-month low.
Severe floods in Australia's northeast had made investors nervous about the outlook for some company earnings.
The floods have also raised worries about inflation, underscored by a UN food agency report, which showed global food prices hit a record high last month.
The agency said key grains could climb even further as weather pattern give cause for concern. This could raise the risk that countries like China and India will take further action to tackle rising food inflation.
Clearly with inflation pressures building up ... they will have to increase the pace of their rate hikes. Currency appreciation will help, but it will not be enough, said Eugene Kim, Hong Kong-based managing director of Tribridge Investment Partners, which manages nearly $300 million in Asian debt.
In the currency market, the dollar rose to 83.39 yen, reaching highs not seen since December 23, while the euro traded around $1.3150, after falling below $1.3200 for the first time since December 29.
The dollar index <.DXY>, which tracks the greenback's performance against a basket of major currencies, was little changed on the day at 80.238, having topped out at a fresh one-week high of 80.353.
As long as the key jobs data on Friday is in line with expectations, the dollar is likely keep its gains, but it looks hard for it to climb higher as the market has already priced in good numbers, said Hideki Hayashi, a global economist at Mizuho Securities in Tokyo.
U.S. crude oil was steady in Asia, holding just below $90.50 a barrel, having hit a high of $90.84 on Wednesday in the wake of the U.S. data. It was within striking distance of a 27-month high of $92.58 set in the first trading day of the year.
(Additional reporting by Antoni Slodkowski and Kaori Kaneko in Tokyo, Umesh Desai in Hong Kong, Editing by Kevin Plumberg)