Euro weakens in Asia on ECB stimulus speculation

TOKYO - The euro struggled in Asia Monday on growing expectations that the European Central Bank will pull the trigger on a massive bond-buying scheme to buoy the struggling eurozone economy.

In Tokyo, the single currency slipped to US$1.1559 (S$2.06) and 135.31 yen (S$1.53), from $1.1566 and 135.87 yen on Friday in New York, where at one point it had dropped below $1.1500 for the first time since November 2003.

The dollar changed hands at 117.05 yen, compared with 117.46 yen in US trading.

Investors have been moving out of the euro ahead of the ECB meeting on Thursday that analysts are forecasting will see the introduction of sovereign bond purchases, known as quantitative easing (QE).

The scheme essentially entails the bank printing euros in order to boost lending and fight off deflation -- similar to the scheme recently brought to an end in by the US Federal Reserve. However with more cash in circulation demand for the single currency weakens.

"Nothing could be clearer than the current economic and policy divide than between the US and Europe," said National Australia Bank.

"As the Fed ponders rate lift-off and US consumer sentiment hits its highest level for 11 years, the ECB last week has been putting together a QE plan that will get some sort of approval from Germany."

Eurozone inflation fell into negative territory in December, with consumer prices down 0.2 per cent. On a year-over-year basis, inflation was the weakest since September 2009 -- at 0.8 per cent it is well below the ECB's target of close to 2.0 per cent.

The Bank of Japan also holds a meeting this week, but few expect policymakers to further loosen its monetary policy as it tries to counter a downturn in the world's number three economy.

In other trading, the euro bought 1.0024 Swiss francs.

On Thursday, the Swiss National Bank announced it was abandoning the minimum rate of 1.20 francs against the euro, a ceiling it had imposed three years ago during the eurozone debt crisis to stop the franc from appreciating too much against the European currency.

The shock announcement was felt across the globe as the franc immediately strengthened by 30 per cent against the euro.