June 23 (Reuters) – Asian shares edged up and sterling stood close to its peak for the year on Thursday, as investors were cautiously optimistic that British voters would opt to remain in the European Union at a referendum later in the session.
Two opinion polls published late on Wednesday, a few hours before voters were due to begin to cast their votes, showed the “Remain” camp gaining momentum in the closely divided campaign.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan edged up 0.2 percent in early trading, shrugging off modest overnight losses on Wall Street.
Japan’s Nikkei share average rose 0.3 percent.
“Markets seem to have almost entirely priced in a ‘Remain’ vote win, meaning that the market moves and volatility around the vote may be far less than many had been expected,” wrote Angus Nicholson, market analyst at IG in Melbourne.
“Nonetheless, markets are still incredibly nervous and some sharp market moves are likely over the next 24 hours,” he said.
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Sterling rose to $1.4847, its highest against the dollar in 2016, and was last up 0.6 percent at $1.4798.
The perceived safe-haven yen also slipped on receding fears of the market turmoil that would likely follow if Britain were to pull out of the EU.
The dollar added 0.2 percent to 104.69 yen, while the euro gained 0.5 percent to 118.54 yen.
The euro rose 0.2 percent to $1.1322, while the dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six rival currencies, slipped 0.1 percent to 93.582.
On the U.S. data front, home resales rose to a more than nine-year high last month against a backdrop of historically low mortgage rates, adding to recent upbeat second quarter data.
Crude oil prices rose after settling down more than 1 percent on Wednesday after the U.S. government reported a smaller-than-expected inventory drawdown.
Brent added 0.7 percent to $50.23 a barrel after shedding 1.5 percent on Wednesday, while U.S. crude was up 0.8 percent at $49.53 after giving up 1.4 percent in the previous session.
Spot gold plumbed a two-week low of $1,260.36 an ounce and was last down 0.4 pct at $1,261.24.