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Asian shares waver, euro steady but ECB talk weighs

A woman walks past a stock quotation board displaying Japan's Nikkei average outside a brokerage in Tokyo July 19, 2013. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
A woman walks past a stock quotation board displaying Japan's Nikkei average outside a brokerage in Tokyo July 19, 2013. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

By Lisa Twaronite

TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian stocks erased early modest gains on Tuesday, while the euro steadied but remained vulnerable after overnight comments from the European Central Bank chief heightened expectations of easing steps in the euro zone.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> dipped about 0.1 percent, after opening higher, as investors locked in profits following its rise to a one-year high on Monday.

Japan's Nikkei stock average <.N225> was a regional standout, adding about 0.9 percent after marking its highest intraday level since early April.

"Short covering has been continuing since last week's strong China PMI data and U.S. housing data," said Norihiro Fujito, senior investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities. "The main buyers are short-term investors like derivatives players and hedge funds."

U.S. and UK markets were closed for holidays on Monday, giving Asian shares fewer directional cues than usual.

The holidays also crimped foreign exchange volumes to less than half of their daily averages. While thin conditions sometimes amplify market moves, major currency pairs quietly stuck to recent ranges.

The euro last stood at $1.3658, slightly up on the day but still not far from a three-month low of $1.3615 plumbed on Monday. Against the yen, it added about 0.2 percent to 139.26 yen.

ECB chief Mario Draghi on Monday continued to hint at coming measures, saying the ECB must be "particularly watchful" for any negative price spiral in the euro zone, and that "more pre-emptive action may be warranted."

Later on Tuesday, Draghi is scheduled to participate in an armchair discussion in the final day of the ECB forum underway in Portugal.

Reuters reported earlier this month that the ECB is preparing a package of policy options for its June 5 meeting. It includes cuts in all its interest rates as well as targeted measures aimed at boosting lending to smaller firms.

By contrast, current and former Japanese central bankers familiar with internal discussions say an informal debate is under way at the Bank of Japan on how to prepare for an eventual exit from its massive quantitative easing program.

The yen was steady against the dollar, which bought 101.96 and remained not far from its 1-1/2 week high of 102.05 marked on Monday.

Investors kept a wary eye on Ukraine, which launched air strikes and a paratrooper assault against pro-Russian rebels who seized an airport on Monday.

The escalation in the ongoing crisis was tempered by the decisive win for billionaire Petro Poroshenko in Ukraine's weekend presidential election, which many hope will help bring some stability to the situation.

In commodities trading, U.S. crude futures were slightly up at $104.38 a barrel.

Spot gold was a touch lower at $1,291.06 an ounce.

London copper edged to its highest in nearly three months on Tuesday as markets reopened after a holiday weekend, underpinned by buying from top consumer China and expectations of monetary easing in Europe. It was last fetching $6,935 a metric ton.

(Additional reporting by Ayai Tomisawa in Tokyo; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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