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Written by: Staff

SINGAPORE, Apr 18 (Reuters) Gold hit a fresh 25-year high on Tuesday as oil neared a record, pushing shares of Asian commodity firms higher, but broader stock gains were checked by fears that high energy prices would hurt economic growth.

U.S. crude oil futures rose to their highest level in nearly eight months, adding to Monday's strong gains, on worries that growing tension between the West and Iran over Tehran's nuclear ambitions could disrupt oil supplies in the Middle East.

Gold, silver and copper prices also gained, while the dollar steadied after tumbling the previous day on a growing view that the U.S. Federal Reserve could soon end its tightening cycle.

Investors were awaiting the minutes of the Fed's March meeting due later in the day for clues about whether the central bank would keep raising interest rates beyond a widely expected increase in May to ward off inflation, traders said.

Markets will get a snapshot of the U.S. inflation picture when the U.S. producer price index for March is released later in the day, followed by the consumer price index on Wednesday.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei average finished the morning 0.85 percent higher at 17,141.58 as investors bought shares in Nippon Mining Holdings Inc. and other resource-related firms.

Nippon Mining jumped 5.4 percent to 1,115 yen.

Firmer commodity prices also fuelled gains in Australia, pushing the index up 1 percent. The world's top miner, BHP Billiton Ltd./Plc., rose 2.5 percent to a new peak of A$30.49, and Woodside Petroleum, the nation's top independent oil producer, climbed 3.5 percent to A$48.43.

The gains helped lift MSCI's index of non-Japan Asian shares by nearly 0.6 percent.

Hong Kong's blue-chip index rose 0.8 percent and Singapore crept higher but South Korea surrendered gains to fall 0.2 percent by mid-morning. Taiwan stocks also bucked the upward trend, retreating 0.6 percent.

South Korea's main index had risen in early trade as investors switched from exporters to domestically-focused stocks to hedge against the risk that higher oil prices and interest rates would dampen U.S. consumer demand.

Shares of South Korean oil refiners rose on hopes that higher fuel prices would boost profit margins. SK Corp., the country's biggest refiner, added 2.3 percent to 71,000 won.

OIL CREEPS UP, COPPER JMPS U.S. crude oil futures rose 10 cents to $70.50 a barrel, just shy of a record high at $70.85 struck last August.

Iran said on Monday it would not be bullied or threatened by the United States into stopping its uranium enrichment work but added it would cooperate with the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

Fears of possible disruption of supplies from the world's fourth-largest oil exporter have helped drive oil prices more than 20 percent higher since mid-February. Western powers are worried that Tehran may be planning to build an atomic bomb.

Gold was quoted at $616.10/616.90, around 25-year highs, compared with $613.20/614.00 in late U.S. trade, as investors continued to chase the yellow metal on fears that inflation could weaken the U.S. dollar.

Copper prices jumped over 4 percent to a record high of $6,390 a tonne as funds' appetite for commodities showed no signs of abating.

The dollar was around 117.90 yen by mid-morning, up from around 117.80 yen in late New York trade on Monday. The euro was at $1.2260 up from $1.2250.

U.S. stocks slid on Monday as surging oil and gold prices stoked investor fears about inflation risks and overshadowed optimism about corporate profits.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.57 percent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq dropped 0.64 percent.


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