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

HONG KONG (AFP) - Asian markets were mixed Monday as the first full week of 2015 got under way, while the euro hit a nine-year low against the US 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 Straits Times Index was trading down 32.56 points, or 0.97 per cent, at 3,338.03 at about 10:50am.

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.

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 cents to US$52.34 while Brent crude for February fell 41 cents to US$56.01.