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HONG KONG, Jan 18 AFP

January 18 2013, 8:50PM

Asian shares posted strong gains on Friday after China released data showing a better-than-expected pick-up in the economy for the past four months, while Tokyo was boosted by another fall in the yen.

The US dollar climbed to a new two-and-a-half-year high against the Japanese unit while the euro also jumped on expectations the Bank of Japan will unveil another huge stimulus package and set a two per cent inflation target.

Tokyo soared 2.86 per cent, or 303.66 points, to 10,913.30, Hong Kong was up 1.12 per cent, or 262.02 points, at 23,601.78 and Shanghai put on 1.41 per cent, or 32.16 points, to 2,317.07.

Seoul added 0.69 per cent, or 13.58 points, to 1,987.85 and Sydney gained 0.31 per cent, or 14.6 points, to 4,771.2.

Beijing said the world's number two economy expanded 7.8 per cent in 2012, better than the government target of 7.5 per cent, marking a second straight year of easing owing to weakness in key overseas markets.

It also said gross domestic product grew 7.9 per cent in the October-December period, snapping seven straight quarters of slowing growth.

Economists surveyed by AFP had projected GDP growth of 7.7 per cent in 2012 and 7.8 per cent in the fourth quarter.

The figures reinforce recent indications that the economy will not suffer a so-called hard landing and is emerging from a drawn-out slumber that has had a knock-on effect on other countries.

"In the market now hard landing concerns are lower, we expect stable growth for the rest of the year," Haibin Zhu, chief China economist at JP Morgan in Hong Kong, told Dow Jones Newswires.

Tokyo shares were lifted by a further weakening in the yen after the Nikkei business daily said the Bank of Japan was preparing to unveil fresh monetary easing measures at its policy meeting next week.

Japan's economy minister Akira Amari said Friday that talks with the bank were getting closer to what the government wants, suggesting they have almost reached an agreement for it to set a two per cent inflation target.

"Things are going in a good direction," he said at a regular press conference. "I think we'll be able to announce something after the BoJ meeting next week."

Amari's comments came after he and Finance Minister Taro Aso met bank chief Masaaki Shirakawa for talks the Nikkei said likely focused on the inflation pledge and plans for an open-ended asset purchase scheme.

Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party were swept to power last month on a promise of bigger spending and a call for the BoJ to follow a more aggressive easing policy to boost the economy.

The dollar climbed to 90.21 yen at one point in Tokyo trade on Friday, its highest since June 2010, and up from 89.86 in New York late Thursday. However, it fell back slightly to 90.02 in the late afternoon.

The euro climbed to 120.43 yen compared with 120.20 yen in New York.

In Asia on Thursday the dollar had sat at 88.72 yen and the euro fetched 117.86 yen.

The euro bought $1.3379 in Tokyo Friday, from $1.3375 in New York Thursday.

"The BoJ's words served to allay some of the scepticism about the possibility of further yen weakening that have hit the market lately," SMBC Nikko Securities general manager of equities Hiroichi Nishi told Dow Jones Newswires.

Wall Street provided a useful lead as it ended in positive territory thanks to upbeat economic data.

The US Labor Department said new jobless claims dropped last week to the lowest level in five years in the week ending January 12, while Commerce Department data showed the number of new houses under construction rebounded strongly in December.

The Dow rose 0.63 per cent, the S&P 500 added 0.56 per cent and the Nasdaq jumped 0.59 per cent.

Oil prices fell. New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in February fell five cents to $95.44 a barrel in the afternoon and Brent North Sea crude for March delivery fell 12 cents to $110.98.

Gold was at $1,691.30 at 0820 GMT compared with $1,681.70 late Thursday.

By Danny McCord