By Ian Chua
SYDNEY (Reuters) - The yen plumbed a 2-1/2 year low against the dollar on Monday as Japan's central bank faced relentless political pressure to deliver bold stimulus, while Asian stocks got off to subdued start with Tokyo closed for a public holiday.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday said 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 saw the U.S. dollar hit a high of 89.67 yen, a level not seen since mid-2010, while the euro climbed as far as 119.84 yen, scaling a 20-month peak.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was flat in early dealings, but not far from a 17-month peak set on Friday. The index has gained more than 2 percent so far this year on growing optimism about the health of the global economy.
Australian's benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.3 percent, while South Korea's KOSPI slipped 0.2 percent, partly weighed by lingering concerns about corporate earnings and a firming local currency.
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 later on Monday at the University of Michigan 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 against higher-yielding currencies such as the Australian dollar and those of faster growing emerging economies.
The Aussie dollar traded at $1.0531, still remaining within easy reach of a four-month high of $1.0599 set last week.
Against the euro, the greenback dipped to a fresh nine-month low. The single currency rose 0.1 percent to $1.3357, continuing to outperform after European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi last week gave no indication the bank would ease monetary policy any further.
Optimism about the global economy also helped stem a slide in oil prices. U.S. crude rose 29 cents to $93.85 a barrel, recovering from Friday's 26-cent fall, while Brent crude was little changed at $110.62 a barrel.