SINGAPORE Japan's Nikkei rallied for a second day on Friday as a tumbling yen boosted exporters, bucking the global trend that drove stocks elsewhere in Asia down more than 2 percent on the week amid concerns about the looming U.S. "fiscal cliff".
The yen held near a six-and-a-half month low plumbed against the dollar after Shinzo Abe, leader of the main opposition and likely to return as Japan's prime minister after an election next month, called on Thursday for the country's central bank to adopt interest rates of zero or below zero to spur lending.
But away from Japan, investors remained wary of buying riskier assets, spooked by uncertainty about the U.S. budget tussle, the euro zone's relapse into recession and violence in the Middle East. Oil was on course for a weekly loss and European and U.S. stocks looked poised to open lower.
President Barack Obama and Congressional leaders begin budget talks on Friday, amid fears the United States will stumble back into recession if no deal is reached to avoid some of the $600 billion in spending cuts and tax hikes due to start taking effect in January.
"The latest comments from key players reinforces to us that the two sides are starting negotiations from rather distant points," said Sean Callow, senior currency strategist at Westpac bank in Sydney, in a note.
"There will be plenty of negative headlines in coming weeks that weigh on risk assets and boost USD, which is yet again trading like a safe haven even when the bad news is generated by the U.S. We doubt there will be a deal before late December."
MSCI's broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.3 percent, leaving the measure on course for a weekly loss of 2.2 percent.
Financial spreadbetters called London's FTSE 100, Frankfurt's DAX and Paris's CAC-40 to open down 0.2-0.3 percent and S&P 500 index futures were down 0.2 percent, pointing to a weaker start on Wall Street.
But Tokyo's Nikkei share average jumped 2.2 percent, adding to a rise of nearly 2 percent on Thursday, with gains again led by exporters such as Canon Inc. (7751.T) and Nissan Motor Co Ltd (7201.T) that benefit from a weaker currency.
"Expectations on how the new (ruling) party will tackle(Japan) deflation are offsetting persistent concerns on the U.S.'s fiscal cliff for now," said Hiroichi Nishi, general manager at SMBC Nikko Securities.
The dollar has rallied more than 2 percent against its Japanese counterpart over the past two sessions after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said he was ready to dissolve parliament's lower house on Friday for an election on December 16.
The yen firmed a little around 81.05 per dollar on Friday, after falling as far as 81.46 on Thursday.
"The substantial weakening of the yen in the past 48 hours has a lot of people rethinking their game plan," said Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co in New York.
The euro weakened a touch to $1.2770, still well above Tuesday's two-month low of $1.2661.
Uncertainty about the fiscal cliff prompted analysts polled by Reuters to cut early 2013 U.S. growth expectations and has boosted demand for the perceived safety of U.S. Treasuries.
The yield on benchmark 10-year Treasuries fell to 1.581 percent on Friday, not far from a two-month low near 1.57 percent set earlier in the week.
"There is no telling what might happen with regard to the fiscal cliff," said Yoshio Takahashi, fixed income strategist for Barclays in Tokyo. "A very Treasuries-friendly environment is likely to persist."
Commodities markets were subdued, with Brent crude rising 0.1 percent to around $108.10 a barrel, while U.S. crude shed a few cents to about $85.40.
Both benchmarks were on course for a losing week, as global growth concerns outweigh the upward pressure on prices from rising tension in the Middle East following Israel's strikes against Palestinian militants in Gaza.
"The global economy has got issues and geopolitical tensions, particularly in the Middle East, are rising," said Jonathan Barratt, chief executive of Barratt's Bulletin, a Sydney-based commodity research firm. "That means a status quo for the oil market for some time."
Gold, which has tended to track riskier commodities in recent months as safe-haven seekers favour the dollar and Treasuries, eased towards $1,713 an ounce, on course for a weekly loss of around 1 percent.
Copper bucked the trend, however, rising 0.1 percent to around $7,645 a tonne, on track for its first weekly gain in six weeks, amid signs that China's economy, a key source of demand for the industrial metal, bottomed out in the third quarter.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Twaronite and Ayai Tomisawa in Tokyo and Masayuki Kitano and Manash Goswami in Singapore; Editing by Richard Pullin)