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Asia stocks mixed, euro hits 9-year low against dollar

Monday, January 5, 2015 - 10:54
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[HONG KONG] Asian markets were mixed on Monday as the first full week of 2015 got under way, while the euro hit a nine-year low against the dollar at one point on growing expectations of fresh European Central Bank stimulus.

Oil extended its losses to sit at five-and-a-half-year lows due to signs of further weakening in the eurozone economy, with both contracts falling towards US$50 a barrel.

Tokyo slipped 0.68 per cent by the break, Hong Kong lost 0.70 per cent, Shanghai gained 0.74 per cent, Sydney added 0.24 per cent and Seoul was 0.91 per cent lower.

The year got off to a tentative start after a broadly positive end to 2014 for most markets.

While there are few catalysts to drive business this week, eyes will be on the release on Friday of US jobs data. Traders are already in broad agreement that the Federal Reserve will hike interest rates around the middle of the year and another strong batch of employment figures will reinforce that view.

The greenback, which was already pushing up against the euro, climbed further Monday after the head of the European Central Bank reiterated the possibility of more monetary easing to kickstart the eurozone.

In an interview with German business daily Handelsblatt at the end of last week, ECB President Mario Draghi said deflation was a threat and the central bank needs to be prepared to counter it.

But the risk that the central bank will not be able to move inflation higher "has increased compared to six months ago," he said.

As a result, the ECB "is currently technically preparing to adjust the size, speed and composition of our measures at the start of 2015, should it become necessary", he added.

The comments sent the single currency tumbling to as low as US$1.1865 early Monday, the lowest since March 2006, before rebounding to US$1.1963. That compares with US$1.2002 in New York Friday.

It was also at 143.86 yen against 144.58 yen in US trade and well down from 1.2097 on the last day of 2014.

"The reasons to be selling the euro were pretty clear over the weekend: Draghi being a step closer to quantitative easing and deepening concerns about the Greek political situation," Sean Callow, a currency strategist at Westpac Banking Corp. in Sydney, told Bloomberg.

Adding to downward pressure on the unit is uncertainty in Greece, which holds a general election this month, with concerns that the anti-austerity Syriza party will take control.

Markets fear the party will roll back measures required under the IMF-EU bailout of the country, in turn further weakening the eurozone economy.

In other currency trade the dollar was at 120.39 yen against 120.46 yen in New York.

Oil prices fell further owing to a global supply glut and weak demand. West Texas Intermediate, the US benchmark, eased 35 US cents to US$52.34 while Brent crude for February fell 41 US cents to US$56.01.

Gold was at US$1,192.13 an ounce, compared with US$1,182.36 in end-of-year trading on Friday.

AFP