LONDON, April 24 (Reuters) - Emerging market stocks hit new seven-month highs on Friday, led by robust gains in Asia, as lacklustre U.S. economic data fed a consensus that Fed rate hikes are less imminent than once feared.
The MSCI emerging equities index gained 0.6 percent to its highest level since last September. Much of the momentum came from Asia where Taiwan's tech-heavy stock market rose 1.2 percent to a 15-year high following record gains on the U.S. Nasdaq index.
The MSCI Asia Pacific ex-Japan benchmark advanced 0.8 percent and was trading at a seven-year high.
Weak readings on U.S. jobless claims, manufacturing and home sales rekindled doubts about how soon the Federal Reserve can raise interest rates, buoying emerging market assets.
"Certainly, a lot of the panic has subsided in the past month or so," said Neil Shearing, head of emerging markets at Capital Economics.
"There is growing acknowledgement that the Fed will tread carefully and second, there have been some local positive developments ... the oil price stabilisation has also helped."
He noted that Brazilian markets had been recovering, led by Petrobras which has tried to move on from a corruption scandal by publishing its long-delayed 2014 audit . Brazilian shares jumped 2 percent on Thursday.
Stabilising oil prices helped Russia's rouble which was more than 1 percent higher against the dollar, close to a 4-1/2 month high.
The Turkish lira fell almost 1 percent against the dollar to a record low as investors continued to fret about political stability and the fragility of central bank independence ahead of June parliamentary elections.
"Markets are increasingly focused on what the elections may deliver and when you have an increasingly authoritarian government in place, (election worry) is always unsettling," Shearing said.
South Africa's rand fell 0.1 percent against the dollar as a rally from Thursday's one-month low petered out before wage negotiations in the gold mining sector.
In central Europe, Polish data showed lower unemployment, in line with expectations, though the zloty slipped 0.2 percent against the euro.
Hungarian stocks rose 0.8 percent, led by energy firm MOL which rose 2.5 percent.
For GRAPHIC on emerging market FX performance 2015, see link.reuters.com/jus35t
For GRAPHIC on MSCI emerging index performance 2015, see link.reuters.com/weh36s
For GRAPHIC on MSCI emerging Europe performance 2015, see link.reuters.com/jun28s
For GRAPHIC on MSCI frontier index performance 2015, see link.reuters.com/zyh97s
For CENTRAL EUROPE market report, see
For TURKISH market report, see
For RUSSIAN market report, see ) (Additional reporting by Sujata Rao; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)