* Yen hits 2-1/2 year lows vs dollar, euro tests 120.00 yen
* Japan’s Abe puts more pressure on BOJ to boldly ease policy
* Asian stocks modestly firmer, Nikkei closed for holiday
By Ian Chua
SYDNEY, Jan 14 (Reuters) - The yen plumbed a 2-1/2 year low against the dollar on Monday, grabbing the Asian spotlight amid subdued trading for the region’s stock markets, with Japan’s central bank in focus as it faced unrelenting political pressure to deliver bold stimulus.
The euro also notched up handsome gains against the dollar and the yen, helped by waning expectations of any further monetary easing from the European Central Bank.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Sunday the Bank of Japan (BOJ) must set a 2 percent inflation target and make it a medium-term, not long-term, goal to show markets it was determined to pursue bold monetary easing to end nearly two decades of deflation.
His comments emboldened yen bears, who took a fresh swipe at the currency. That pushed the U.S. dollar to a high of 89.67 yen , a level not seen since mid-2010, while the euro scaled a 20-month peak above 120.00 yen.
“The confirmation that there’s going to be a push for a new (BOJ) governor, that new governor is going to have a mandate of 2 percent inflation, that plus the fiscal stimulus is a major negative for the yen,” said Callum Henderson, global head of FX research for Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore.
In contrast, equity markets had little news to go on. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose a modest 0.3 percent, remaining near a 17-month peak set on Friday.
Tokyo markets were closed for a public holiday.
Having staged a 2-percent rally at the start of the year on growing optimism about the health of the global economy, stock markets appeared to be pausing for confirmation of a brighter global growth outlook.
Australian’s benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index ended with a 0.2 percent gain, South Korea’s KOSPI closed 0.5 percent higher, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index advanced 0.6 percent. The Shanghai Composite index rose 2.5 percent, recovering from Friday’s 1.8 percent fall, with gains led by financials and property after a media report that the roll-out of a pilot property tax scheme could be delayed.
European markets looked poised to follow Asia’s lead. Financial spread-betters predicted London’s FTSE 100, Paris’s CAC-40 and Frankfurt’s DAX would open 0.3-0.4 percent higher.
U.S. stock futures were a shade firmer, hinting at a steady start for Wall Street.
Analysts at HSBC believe global developments this week will support demand for riskier assets, with U.S. and Chinese data likely to show further momentum in the world’s two biggest economies.
“In addition, the Fed speaker calendar is dominated by doves in the early part of the week. These should provide reassurance that the Fed is in no rush to turn off the liquidity tap despite these early signs of encouragement on activity,” they said in a client note.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is due to speak at the University of Michigan on Monday and investors are eagerly waiting for clues on how long the Fed’s latest bond purchase programme will last.
Any signs that the Fed is in no hurry to end its quantitative easing programme could see the U.S. dollar soften further against higher-yielding currencies such as the Australian dollar and those of faster-growing emerging economies.
The Aussie dollar rose 0.2 percent to $1.0556, within easy reach of a four-month high of $1.0599 set last week. China’s yuan flirted with record highs against the greenback, changing hands at 6.2149 per dollar.
The euro was up 0.4 percent at a fresh nine-month high of $1.3404, continuing to outperform the greenback after European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi last week gave no indication the bank would ease monetary policy any further.
Commodity prices found some traction after last week’s decline. Brent crude gained 39 cents to $111.03 a barrel as fears of supply disruption in the Middle East resurfaced, while U.S. crude rose 62 cents to $94.18 a barrel.
Copper edged up 0.7 percent to $8,101 a tonne and gold was a shade firmer at $1,666 an ounce.