* Spreadbetters see mixed openings ahead in Europe
* Nikkei shrugs off downbeat GDP, ex-Japan Asia MSCI edges higher
* China loan data disappoints, other figures fail to impress
By Hideyuki Sano and Lisa Twaronite
TOKYO, Aug 13 (Reuters) - Asian shares eked out modest gains on Wednesday, as investors remained cautious after downbeat data from China and Japan and as the crisis in Ukraine threatened a fragile economic recovery in Europe.
Mainland Chinese shares were knocked off their highs by surprisingly weak loans data, and other data released later in the session also missed expectations. Some economists believe further stimulus may be needed to sustain the recovery and offset the drag from the cooling property market.
The cautious mood was seen extending into the European day, with financial spreadbetters expecting mixed starts around the region. Britain’s FTSE 100 was seen opening down 0.2 percent, while Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC 40 was seen rising 0.2 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively.
“Our opening calls for European markets today suggest stability on the open,” IG chief market strategist Chris Weston wrote in a note to clients.
Japan’s Nikkei share average ended up 0.4 percent, shrugging off downbeat growth data, while MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan added 0.2 percent.
China’s National Bureau of Statistics released figures in the afternoon showing industrial output rose 9 percent in July from a year earlier, as expected, while retail sales climbed 12.2 percent, a shade below forecasts. Fixed-asset investment, an important driver of economic activity, also missed forecasts, growing 17 percent in the first seven months from the same period last year.
Shanghai shares, which had risen sharply over the past few weeks on hopes of recovery in Chinese economy, reversed their earlier rise to an eight-month high and were down 0.4 percent .
“Institutions will take all these data into considerations, so we cannot immediately say the market’s recent rally is over or not,” said Xiao Shijun, stock analyst at Guodu Securities in Beijing.
Investors were also wary of developments in Ukraine as a convoy of 280 Russian trucks carrying humanitarian aid headed for eastern Ukraine, where government forces are closing in on pro-Russian rebels.
While Western officials have voiced suspicions that Russia would use a humanitarian mission as a pretext for invading Ukraine, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it would hand off the convoy to the Red Cross after crossing the border.
“You can’t say there’s zero chance of a military intervention. But you can’t bet on it either. So investors are sort of stuck at the moment.” said Ayako Sera, market strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank.
In further evidence that tit-for-tat sanctions between the West and Russia are placing a burden on the European economy, a survey on Tuesday showed German analyst and investor morale plunged in August to its lowest level in more than 1-1/2 years.
Concerns that Europe’s largest economy is losing momentum just as the region is barely recovering after the debt crisis have hurt German shares, the euro and the European oil prices as well.
Prices of copper, seen as a barometer of world demand, fell to a six-week low of $6,926.50 per tonne on worries about global growth, and was last down 0.3 percent on the day at $6948.
The euro wallowed at $1.3372, steady on the day and sticking near nine-month low of $1.3333 hit last week.
In oil market, European benchmark Brent crude oil slipped to a fresh 13-month low of $102.39 per barrel.
Appetite for riskier assets have also been undermined by violence in the Middle East, giving a boost to safe-haven assets such as bonds.
U.S. bonds slipped slightly on Tuesday, however, as traders sold some bond holdings in advance of a combined $40 billion in longer-dated supply. The 10-year yield was at 2.454 percent in Asia on Wednesday, not far from a 14-month low of 2.349 percent hit last week.
The Japanese yen, which also tends to rise at times of depressed sentiment because of its wide use as a funding currency, was off last week’s high of 101.51 yen per dollar to trade at 102.28 yen, flat from the previous session.
The yen hardly budged after data showed Japan’s economy shrank an annualised 6.8 percent from the previous quarter - the biggest contraction in three years, but slightly better than market forecast.
While the soft data is unlikely to shake the Bank of Japan’s conviction that the economy can ride out the tax hike impact, it could add pressure on the bank for further monetary easing if weakness in exports and consumption is prolonged. (Additional reporting by Lu Jianxin in Shanghai; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)