Asian stocks rise, gold near high

By Frederik Richter

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Asian stocks turned positive on Monday, recovering a small portion of last week's steep losses, while gold shot to new highs as investors worried about the sluggish U.S. economic outlook and Europe's debt crisis.

Spot gold prices hit a record high of $1,878.39 per ounce as the shaky global outlook prompted investors to move more money into the safe haven, while oil prices tumbled on hopes Libya may resume full output soon as a six-month civil war seemed to be nearing an end.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index clawed back early losses and was up 0.2 percent at 0300 GMT as the prospects for currency market intervention by Tokyo to weaken the strong yen offset growing worries of another U.S. recession.

Shares elsewhere in the region as measured by the MSCI Asia Pacific ex-Japan index also reversed their earlier losses and rose 0.3 percent.

S&P 500 futures edged 0.3 percent higher in Asia, with some analysts saying there could be a technical rebounce in U.S. stocks later in the day.

"The sentiment of markets is very weak at the moment," he said.

A key event this week will be a speech by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on August 26 in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, during which he is expected to provide an economic outlook and hints on how policymakers plan to handle the turmoil in financial markets.

Bernanke used the same event last year to suggest the Fed could help growth by buying long-term bonds, but no major announcements are expected this time.

On Friday, U.S. stocks fell after Hewlett-Packard's weaker outlook and corporate shakeup added to uncertainty for investors after a month of bad surprises ranging from a U.S. credit rating downgrade to a sharp slowdown in world growth.

Markets will also watch data on bond buying by the European Central Bank and debt issuance by European countries such as Italy on Tuesday to see if the euro zone's debt crisis is worsening.

Brent oil futures fell 1.71 percent to $106.75, weighed down by a firmer U.S. dollar and as the months-long conflict in oil-producing Libya appeared to enter its decisive phase, with rebel fighters streaming into the heart of Tripoli.

The dollar index, which tracks the strength of the greenback against a basket of currencies, rose 0.1 percent.

The dollar surged higher against the yen, but later pared some of its gains, with traders citing talk that the spike in the dollar was triggered by bids by a U.S. bank.

The move came as increasingly on edge about the possibility that Japan may intervene to curb yen strength, in the wake of the dollar's drop down to a record low around 75.95 yen late last week.

The dollar was last up 0.4 percent on the day at 76.84 yen, having rose to as high as 77.23 yen earlier.

(Additional reporting by Ayai Tomisawa in Tokyo; Editing by Kim Coghill)