Euro gains but shares steady before economic data

LONDON (Reuters) - The euro hit a fresh 14-month high on Friday as investors returned to the region's riskier asset markets, while shares steadied ahead of a batch of major U.S. and European economic data.

The euro hit a high of $1.3634 to the dollar, building on gains of over 3 percent in January, as the European Central Bank prepared to reveal how much more of its three-year emergency loans banks were likely to repay early.

The repayments are seen as a sign the euro zone debt crisis has eased, encouraging demand for peripheral European debt, but have also raised expectations short term money market rates could rise, which is supporting the euro. Details from ECB are due at 1100 GMT.

Otherwise attention is focused on the economic outlook with the release of January data on factory activity across the euro area to be followed by the latest U.S. jobs report at 1330 GMT and a national report on the state of American manufacturers.

Markets expect the data to show conditions in the euro zone remain weak but have at least stabilized after a weak fourth quarter, while the jobs data in the U.S. should confirm a gradual recovery is underway.

"We are seeing indications of improvement in underlying conditions and the seeds are being sown for a future economic recovery, but here and now economic conditions are still weak," Nick Kounis, head of macro research at ABN-AMRO, said.

Ahead of the data the broader FTSEurofirst 300 index <.fteu3> of top companies was 0.2 percent higher at 1,166.87 points, near a 223 month high.

Earlier China's said official purchasing managers' index (PMI) eased to 50.4 in January, missing market expectations for a rise and underscoring the fragility of the recovery from the economy's weakest year since 1999.

However, a separate private survey showed that growth in China's giant manufacturing sector hit a two-year high in January as domestic demand strengthened, underlining hopes the nation's economic recovery is slowly gaining momentum.

The Chinese data left MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> little changed and capped gains in oil prices from escalating tensions in the Middle East.

U.S. crude futures inched up 9 cents to $97.58 a barrel while Brent rose 23 cent to $115.978

London copper added 0.5 percent to $8,203 a tonne.

(Reporting by Richard Hubbard; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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