* Nikkei up 1 pct, ex-Japan Asia MSCI trim early gains
* Earnings likely to disappoint, with Chinese companies in focus
* Commodities wallow near 6-year lows on trade worries
* Dollar holds upper hand vs other currencies
By Saikat Chatterjee
HONG KONG, July 30 (Reuters) - Asian stocks tiptoed higher on Thursday and the dollar consolidated recent gains after the U.S. Federal Reserve painted a relatively bright picture of the economy, but a deepening sell-off in commodities kept gains in check.
Prospects of stronger U.S. growth in coming months lifted Asian stocks in early trade, with Japan’s Nikkei up 1.1 percent and Australian shares adding 0.8 percent. But South Korean shares fell 0.7 percent.
A dollar-denominated index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.2 percent after Chinese stocks had a quiet opening.
Financial spreadbetters expect Britain’s FTSE 100 to open 0.1 percent higher, Germany’s DAX to open up 0.2 percent, and France’s CAC 40 to open up 0.1 percent.
Gains were muted before the earnings season kicks off at full throttle next week, when companies are broadly expected to post disappointing results on the back of weak economic data in recent months, particularly for trade.
Gavekal strategists noted that Asia’s trade performance had been disappointing in recent months. After a two-year post-crisis rebound in 2010-2011, export growth in the region has slowed to an annual average of 7.5 percent in U.S. dollar terms and 6 percent in volume terms this year compared to U.S. dollar growth rates of 30 percent in the years before the crisis.
“The markets still think that the world’s economy remains fragile, given a fall in Chinese shares and commodity prices. The Fed surely doesn’t want to screw up its exit from zero rates by hastily moving and hitting already fragile commodities market and the world economy,” said Tohru Yamamoto, chief fixed income strategist at Daiwa Securities.
Subdued external demand is expected to weigh on corporate earnings, with CLSA strategists expecting first-half earnings growth at Hong Kong and Chinese companies to be weak and guidance for the third quarter unlikely to be better.
Chinese equities, already a third lower than their June highs, slipped on Thursday after state media reported that banks were investigating their exposure to the stock market from wealth management products and loans collateralised with stocks.
“The market has been struggling to hover above the water with investors taking to the sidelines to see if stability can be maintained in the market,” said Ben Kwong, a director at KGI Asia in Hong Kong.
On Wall Street, U.S. stocks rose broadly on the Fed’s optimism and strong corporate earnings, with the S&P 500 rising 0.7 percent to 2,108.57.
After a two-day policy meeting, Fed officials said they felt the economy had overcome a first-quarter slowdown and was “expanding moderately”, leaving the door open for an interest rate increase in coming months.
Commodities extended their decline, with copper, considered a bellwether for global economic activity, trading near a six-year low at $5,322 a tonne.
The broad Thomson Reuters CRB commodities index also hit a fresh six-year low.
Oil prices, smarting from supply concerns due to rising U.S. shale oil output and an easing of sanction on Iran, rose after weekly data showed an unexpectedly large drawdown in U.S. crude inventories.
Front-month Brent crude futures rose overnight to settle at $53.38 a barrel, recovering from Tuesday’s six-month low of $52.28.
In currencies, the dollar index advanced to 97.22, having rebounded from Monday’s two-week low of 96.288.
The euro fell 0.1 percent to $1.0955, near its lowest level of the week. In recent weeks the euro has fallen, strengthening its appeal as a funding currency for investment in risky assets.
The dollar rose about 0.1 percent in Asian trade to 124.1 yen, hitting its highest level so far this week. (Additional reporting by Donny Kwok and Hideyuki Sano in TOKYO; Editing by Eric Meijer)