GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian stocks set for quarterly gains, yen eyes qtrly loss

* Asian shares rise, Nikkei claws back in choppy trade

* MSCI world stock index on track for 4 pct Q1 gain

* Yen gains after losses on European, U.S. rate view

* Brent oil posts qtrly jump; oil, bonds flat in qtr

By Richard Leong

HONG KONG, March 31 (Reuters) – Asian stocks advanced on
Thursday, heading for a quarterly gain despite a sharp sell-off
earlier this month after disaster struck Japan, while the yen
was poised for a quarterly loss on expectations Tokyo will have
to maintain super-loose monetary policy far longer than Europe
and the United States.

Concerns about the impact on high oil and food prices on
global growth and central bank moves to curb inflation have
overtaken worries about Japan’s nuclear crisis and unrest in the
Middle East. This has caused some analysts to remain cautious
even on investments in faster-growing Asian markets.

“Most of the Asian economies will grow more moderately than
last year. They are encountering more hurdles like inflation and
controls in capital flows. This could create some disincentives
to invest in Asia broadly. You have to invest in selective
markets” said Thomas Lam, group chief economist at OSK-DMG in
Singapore.

Lam cited Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore as likely better
performers than Hong Kong and Thailand.

Still analysts predict emerging Asian markets will on
average fare than developed ones this year.

MSCI’s index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan
rose 0.5 percent on the day, putting it on track
for a 4.7 percent gain in March despite a sharp downward spike
following the massive earthquake and tsunami which hit Japan on
March 11, severely damaging a nuclear power plant and knocking
many factories offline.

For the year to date, the Asia ex-Japan index has gained 1.2
percent.

By comparison, the MSCI world index dipped
0.2 percent in March, but has gained around 4 percent so far in
2011. Relative weakness in Asia was offset by strong gains early
in the year in major U.S. and European indexes as investors
rotated from emerging markets to large, developed ones.

The U.S. S&P 500 index has risen 6.3 percent so far
this year and the FTSEurofirst 300 index of leading
European shares has managed a 1.2 percent rise.

EMERGING VS DEVELOPED MARKETS

A key investment decision for Asian stock investors in the
coming months will likely be whether to pile bets on China and
the faster-growing economies in Asia over safer but
lower-returning investments in developed economies, analysts
said.

Gross domestic product of emerging markets will on average
expand 6.0 percent in 2011 and 2012, more than double those of
developed markets, according to JPMorgan economists.

In Asia, Japan is expected to lag its neighbors as the
world’s No. 3 economy faces huge rebuilding cost from the twin
disasters this month and the still unknown toll from the damaged
nuclear plant, which is still leaking radiation.

The yen has declined to the lowest since May 2010 against
the euro in the wake of recent hawkish comments by euro zone
officials signalling interest rate hikes, and has slid against
the dollar as well after U.S. central bank officials indicated
the economy may now be strong enough that it no longer needs
further stimulus.

On the last day of Japan’s fiscal year, the Nikkei index
was up nearly 0.5 percent late in a choppy session. So
far in March, it has shed 8.3 percent, heading for its worst
month since May 2010. Year to date, the benchmark has fallen
around 5 percent.

WEAKER YEN BOOSTS EXPORTERS’ SHARES

The weaker yen is expected to boost the demand for Japanese
goods in overseas markets, though investors remain concerned
about the impact of power shortages on Japanese manufacturers
following the disasters.

It is also seen as a cheap way to fund higher-yielding
assets such as the Australian dollar which reached a 10-month
high against the yen and a 29-year high against the
U.S. dollar in early trading.

But the yen on Thursday pulled back from its earlier lows,
trading flat to slightly higher against major currencies.

The dollar was last at 82.74 yen , up 9 percent from
its record low of 76.25 yen on March 17 before G7 central banks
intervened in a rare coordinated move to stem the yen’s rise.

The euro last traded at 117.11 yen. It had risen high as
117.54 yen earlier , its highest since May 2010,
bringing its gains this year to 8 percent.

Concerns over Japan’s nuclear crisis, conflicts in the Libya
and nagging fiscal problems in Europe have eased, for now, with
expectations that stocks worldwide will move higher into the new
quarter on an improving economic outlook, analysts said.

Gold rebounded from initial losses tied to profit-taking. It
snapped a four-session losing streak on Wednesday. For the
quarter, gold as well as bonds generated small returns.

Barclays Capital’s global aggregate bond index has risen
1.05 percent so far this year.

Spot gold traded at $1,426.86 an ounce, compared with
$1,423.38 late in New York on Wednesday. It has been running 2
percent below the record of $1,447.40 set on March 24.

U.S. oil prices rose after falling on Wednesday on data
showing ample inventory in the United States, the world’s
biggest energy consumer. This offset worries over supply
disruption from the turmoil in Libya and the Middle East.

U.S. crude (CLc1: Quote, Profile, Research) was up 41 cents to $104.68 a barrel, while
Brent crude (LCOc1: Quote, Profile, Research) advanced 42 cents to $115.55, posting more
than a 24 percent increase so far this year.

(Reporting by Natsuko Waki and Antoni Slodkowski in TOKYO,;
Lewa Pardomuan, Randy Fabi and Catherine Trevethan in
Singapore,; Park Jung-youn in SEOUL)

GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian stocks set for quarterly gains, yen eyes qtrly loss