* Dollar eases vs yen, trades below recent 8-week high
* Focus on U.S. data, strength of economic growth momentum
* Kiwi remains on defensive after previous day’s slide (Updates prices, adds comments)
By Masayuki Kitano
SINGAPORE, May 12 (Reuters) - The dollar traded below an eight-week high against the yen on Friday, with the near-term focus on whether coming U.S. economic data would provide the catalyst for further gains in the greenback.
The dollar eased 0.1 percent to 113.70 yen, having retreated from its eight-week high of 114.38 yen on May 10.
However, the greenback has still risen 0.8 percent this week and has gained more than 4 percent in the three weeks since the first round of the France’s presidential elections, with the yen having slipped on reduced risk aversion among investors.
“The dollar has been surprisingly well-supported against the yen and the market seems to have a very optimistic view,” said Masafumi Yamamoto, chief currency strategist for Mizuho Securities in Tokyo.
While U.S. growth in April-June will probably show some improvement after a weak first quarter, it could remain stuck below 2 percent, Yamamoto said.
Uncertainty about U.S. growth momentum, and concerns about the political repercussions of President Donald Trump’s unexpected dismissal of Federal Bureau of Investigation chief James Comey, could limit the scope for near-term gains for the dollar, analysts say.
The concern is that the latest turmoil in Washington could hamper the Trump administration’s ability to implement promised tax reform and stimulus measures.
“The dollar will probably trade in a 112 yen to 115 yen range for a while,” said Masashi Murata, currency strategist for Brown Brothers Harriman in Tokyo, adding that it will probably take some time for the greenback to break above 115 yen.
Data released on Thursday showed that new applications for U.S. jobless benefits unexpectedly fell last week while producer prices rebounded strongly in April, pointing to a tightening labour market and rising inflation that could spur the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates in June.
More U.S. indicators are due later on Friday, including retail sales and the consumer price index for April.
The euro edged up 0.1 percent to $1.0870. Earlier this week, the euro reached a six-month high of $1.1024 on relief over centrist Emmanuel Macron’s victory in France’s presidential election.
The New Zealand dollar eased 0.2 percent to $0.6838 , staying on the defensive after tumbling 1.3 percent on Thursday.
The kiwi had slipped to its lowest level since June 2016 at $0.6818 on Thursday, after the Reserve Bank of New Zealand stuck to a neutral bias on policy, warning investors they were reading the outlook wrong and expressing approval of the currency’s declines this year.
In addition to U.S. data, investors will be keeping an eye on a two-day meeting in Italy of finance chiefs from the G7 due to start on Friday.
Many participants at the G7 meeting will be looking to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to gauge Washington’s intentions on issues where Trump has threatened to upset the group’s consensus: protectionism and climate change. (Reporting by Masayuki Kitano; Editing by Sam Holmes and Richard Borsuk)