SINGAPORE: Asian stocks rose on Friday and were poised for their fifth straight week of gains after a set of data highlighted a resilient U.S. economy, lifting investor sentiment ahead of next week's slate of central bank monetary policy meetings.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.53% to almost nine-month highs of 561.99. The index, which fell nearly 20% last year, is up about 11% in the month and is on course for its best ever January performance. Japan's Nikkei rose 0.20%.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index opened 0.2% higher after surging more than 2% on Thursday. Mainland China markets are due to resume on Monday after the Lunar New Year holiday.
The U.S. economy grew faster than expected in the fourth quarter as consumers boosted spending on goods, data showed, but it could be the last quarter of solid GDP growth before the lagged effects of the Federal Reserve's jumbo interest rate hikes are fully felt.
A separate report showed that labour market remains tight and could lead the Fed to keep interest rates higher for longer.
Thursday's set of data has raised investor hopes of a soft landing - a scenario in which inflation eases against a backdrop of slowing but resilient economic growth.
Wall Street ended a choppy session higher overnight on those hopes.
"While the strong headline, together with another sub-200k print for the weekly jobless claims, suggested that the U.S. economy was holding up strongly in the wake of rapid Fed tightening, the details were still patchy," Saxo strategists said.
Futures are pricing a 94.7% probability of a 25-basis-point hike next Wednesday and see the Fed's overnight rate at 4.45% by next December, or lower than the 5.1% rate Fed officials have projected into next year.
Data on U.S. personal consumption expenditures (PCE) due at 1330 GMT will provide further clues on inflation.
"The disinflation impulse is likely to stretch further, as has been evident from CPI (Consumer Price Index) releases lately, likely continuing to build a case for a 25 basis point rate hike by the Fed next week," Saxo strategists said.
Next week will also feature Bank of England and European Central Bank meetings that will indicate the monetary policy path the central banks are likely to take.
Elsewhere in Japan, core consumer prices in Tokyo, a leading indicator of nationwide trends, rose 4.3% in January from a year earlier, marking the fastest annual gain in nearly 42 years.
The Japanese yen strengthened 0.38% to 129.71 per dollar as the data reinforced market expectation that rising inflation could nudge the Bank of Japan to move away from its ultra-easy policy.
"We still think the policy change is a long way off," ING regional head of research Robert Carnell said. "The Spring salary negotiations are key to watch as wage growth is a prerequisite for sustainable inflation."
The dollar index, which measures the U.S. currency against six other peers, eased 0.039%, with the euro up 0.07% to $1.0897.
Sterling was last trading at $1.241, up 0.03% on the day.
Oil prices rose on expectations of a boost to demand from China's reopening and after the strong U.S. data. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude rose 0.31% to $81.26 per barrel and Brent was at $87.67, up 0.23% on the day.
(Reporting by Ankur Banerjee Editing by Shri Navaratnam)