Asian stocks rose to a two-week high, with Japan's Nikkei briefly rising more than 2 percent, as strong U.S. manufacturing data further soothed worries about the global economy.

The dollar and the yen began the day on the defensive, while commodities gained, helping make materials shares some of the strongest performers across the region as gold steadied after a two-month top hit on Wednesday.

The Institute for Supply Management said its index of U.S. factory activity rose to 56.3 in August from 55.5 in July, much higher than forecast by economists.

Coming on the heels of strong Chinese manufacturing data and stronger-than-expected growth in Australia, the numbers eased investor fears about the pace of global economic recovery and helped Wall Street to its best day in eight weeks. <.N>

But gains in Asian stocks, which were also boosted by gains in tech shares, appeared capped by wariness about whether the global economy is truly on the path to recovery, as well as concern about closely watched U.S. nonfarm payrolls data on Friday.

It's too early to say worries about a double-dip recession in the economy have been wiped away just because China's PMI, Australia's GDP and U.S. data weren't bad, said Masahiko Sato, an executive director at Nomura Securities' equity marketing department.

But stocks may become more resilient to poor economic indicators going forward and gain further if money that had shifted to bonds on extreme concern over the economy comes back to equities, early signs of which have likely appeared in U.S., Germany and U.K. bonds after yesterday's data.

The MSCI index of Asia Pacific stocks outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> rose 0.8 percent to its highest level since mid-August.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei <.N225> rose more than 2 percent at one point, moving further away from a 16-month low hit on Wednesday, helped by what some market players said was buying by domestic institutional investors at lows and buying of futures by foreign players.

But the Nikkei pared gains to 1.2 percent by midday. It lost 7.5 percent in August and is down roughly 14 percent on the year.

Seoul shares <.KS11> rose 0.3 percent, boosted by tech stocks, with market players saying foreign investors, cheered by the rise on Wall Street, could turn strong buyers.

Australian stocks <.AXJO> rose 0.8 percent to a three-week high, with miners such as Rio Tinto gaining after copper prices rose to a four-month high.


The dollar index, a gauge of the greenback's performance against a basket of six major currencies, was steady on the day at 82.528 <.DXY> after falling 0.9 percent on Wednesday, marking its biggest one-day fall in six weeks.

The dollar edged down 0.2 percent to 84.27 yen but still stayed above a 15-year low of 83.58 yen hit last week.

Through the ISM data boosted higher-yielding currencies such as the Australian dollar, investors have now turned hesitant about taking fresh positions ahead of the European Central Bank's policy meeting later in the day and Friday's closely watched monthly U.S. job report, a trader said.

Spot gold edged up to $1,246.70 an ounce, after hitting $1,254.65 on Wednesday, its highest since June 28.

Oil held onto most of the previous session's gain of 2.8 percent after the strong manufacturing data in top consumers the United States and China raised hopes record oil inventories will draw down.

U.S. crude for October delivery was steady at $73.91 a barrel at 0211 GMT after a jump of nearly $2 on Wednesday.

(Additional reporting by Aiko Hayashi in Tokyo; Editing Kazunori Takada)