Asian shares, US dollar firm on Greek optimism

TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares advanced close to recent highs on Friday and the dollar stood tall after news that Greece had made a 450 million euro loan payment to the International Monetary Fund trimmed safety bids for U.S. government debt.

The payment to the IMF secured extra emergency lending for Greek banks and helped improve global risk sentiment, though it remained unclear whether Athens could satisfy creditors who remain sceptical on the country's economic reforms.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up about 0.1 per cent, not far from the previous session's peak which was the highest since September, and on track for a robust weekly gain of over 3 per cent.

Wall Street posted solid gains overnight, and European markets ended higher after German industrial output and trade data showed the continent's largest economy improving in February. Europe's EuroFirst 300 index surged 1.1 per cent to its highest level since July 2007.

Japan's Nikkei stock average was up 0.3 per cent in early trade, breaking the 20,000 level for the first time since April 2000.

U.S. Treasury yields rose overnight on the Greek news, weak demand at a sale of 30-year bonds, and a smaller-than-expected rise in weekly jobless claims that alleviated some concern about the U.S. labour market after last week's dismal March payrolls report.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note stood at 1.961 per cent in Asian trade, up from its U.S. close of 1.958 percent on Thursday, adding to the dollar's appeal.

The U.S. Labor Department said workers filing for first-time jobless benefits totalled 281,000 last week, fewer than what analysts had forecast, and bringing the four-week average of claims to its lowest since 2000.

Against the yen, the dollar climbed to a three-week high of 120.74 overnight, moving well away from its post-payrolls low of 118.71 yen a week ago. It was last at 120.58 yen, steady on the day.

The euro was also nearly flat on the day at US$1.0663 after dipping to a three-week low of US$1.0637 on Thursday.

Later in Friday's Asian session, China is scheduled to release inflation data. A soft reading would give Beijing more leeway to take more stimulus steps.

Oil prices remained firm after rising on Thursday on strong German economic data and uncertainty about negotiations on Iran's nuclear program. Brent added about 0.4 percent to US$56.78 a barrel, while U.S. crude ticked slightly higher to US$50.81.