MF Global Ltd , a futures and options broker that has just launched a Japan equity research-led team, said on Tuesday it will expand its operations in Japan to as many as 55 staff or a 28 percent rise by March.

The Bermuda-based broker, which split from hedge fund Man Group plc in 2007, could expand further into other asset classes such as commodities or interest rate futures, Bernard Dan, its chief executive officer, told Reuters in an interview.

The launch of an independent equities research, sales and execution team in Japan has already increased its staff by 17 to 43.

The company aims to widen its research coverage to 250-300 Japanese companies from 100.

Dan said success in Japan was important for the company's growth in the Asia-Pacific region.

He said MF Global saw potential in Japan given the fact that it is the world's No.2 economy and is the most liquid economy and marketplace in the Asia-Pacific.

We need to be very strong in this part of the world to help us leverage our already existing strong base in Hong Kong and India and other emerging markets that are strategic to our overall effort, Dan said.

Asia accounted for around 14 percent of MF Global's net revenue in the April-June quarter, up from 8 percent in the same period last year.

The Asia-Pacific has been a significant growth target for MF Global over the past one and a half years and the broker is focused on strengthening its business in retail foreign exchange and contracts for difference (CFDs) in the region, Dan said.

Trading in CFDs, under which sellers pay buyers the difference between the current value of an asset and its value at the time of a contract, has been gaining popularity among investors.

The company is also looking to build a foreign exchange platform in Asia, he said.

MF Global could take advantage of higher commodities prices as a growing risk of inflation could raise demand for trading in energy, grains and metals after a slew of monetary stimulus packages conducted by global central banks, Dan said.

We are clearly going to enter an environment of inflation, which is going to drive, in my judgment, higher interest rates at some point in time, Dan said.

And that will probably lead to higher commodity prices. And so for our model that will be good, he said.

MF Global said in June it has launched a managed futures division that will source clients for funds that follow commodity trends.

Managed futures industry members, known as Commodity Trading Advisors, gained an average of 14 percent in 2008, with some individual funds up as much as 60 percent. Many hedge funds, in comparison, lost at least 20 percent for the year.

(Additional reporting by Kei Okamura; Editing by Michael Watson)