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Morning Bid: Markets upbeat ahead of China data dump

FILE PHOTO: Lujiazui financial district in Shanghai

By Jamie McGeever

(Reuters) - A look at the day ahead in Asian markets.

Asian markets go into Friday's session looking to end a strong week on a positive note, and there appears to be no obvious reason why the recent upswing should reverse unless investors opt for a bout of profit taking ahead of the weekend.

China's monthly 'data dump', when Beijing simultaneously lands several top-tier economic indicators, could go a long way to setting the market tone across Asia on Friday.

The MSCI Asia ex-Japan stock index is eyeing a sixth consecutive rise, which would mark its best run since January last year. Barring a slide of almost 3%, the index will close the week in positive territory for a fourth week.

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Wall Street ended a touch lower on Thursday, but not before the Dow Jones Industrials hit 40,000 points for the first time, while the dollar and bond yields ticked higher.

On the week, the dollar and yields are lower, and stocks are higher. Broadly speaking, economic and inflation data this week from the world's largest economy were soft, refueling investors' belief that U.S. interest rates will be cut soon.

A batch of top-tier indicators from China on Friday will shed light on how well - or otherwise - the world's second largest economy is performing, and whether it is on track to meet authorities' 5% GDP growth target for this year.

China's economic surprises index is at a three-month low, evidence that activity has been weaker than expected or forecasts were too high to begin with. If there is a consensus, it is gravitating around the former rather than the latter.

The latest house prices, retail sales, urban investment, industrial production and unemployment figures are broadly expected to show economic activity accelerated last month.

The dark cloud of deflation hangs heavily over the economy - the prolonged decline in producer prices could yet drag consumer prices lower - so a set of numbers in line with, or exceeding expectations on Friday would be welcome news for China bulls and policymakers alike.

Chinese bond yields have slumped to all-time lows and the U.S.-China yield spread has ballooned to historic wides. These extreme scenarios have cooled in recent weeks - encouraging economic numbers on Friday will likely extend that 'normalization' further.

Figures from Japan on Thursday, meanwhile, showed that the world's third-largest economy fared much worse in the first quarter than economists had expected, as first quarter GDP shrank at an annualized rate of 2.0%.

That's the kind of number that could make the Bank of Japan think twice about its policy 'normalization'. The yen and Japanese bond yields retreated on Thursday but are still slightly higher on the week.

Here are key developments that could provide more direction to markets on Friday:

- China house prices, retail sales, urban investment, industrial production, unemployment (April)

- Malaysia GDP (Q1)

- Hong Kong GDP (Q1)

(Reporting by Jamie McGeever; Editing by Josie Kao)