Filomena Scalise

Tokyo - Asian shares inched higher on Tuesday as investors increasingly expect the European Central Bank to expand liquidity as soon as next week to boost the sagging euro zone economy - just as the US Federal Reserve plans to end its bond-buying drive.

The euro slipped to a one-year low against the dollar as comments from ECB chief Mario Draghi late last week that the central bank was prepared to respond with all its “available” tools resonated in the market.

“Draghi's speech marked a turning point in ECB rhetoric... He also confirmed that beyond liquidity injections through the targeted longer-term refinancing operations (TLTRO) and outright asset-backed securities (ABS) purchases, the ECB was ready to do more if necessary,” Philippe Gudin, an economist at Barclays, said in report.

MSCI's dollar-denominated index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan ticked up 0.1 percent, led by 0.3 percent gains in South Korean shares. Japan's Nikkei average bucked the trend, shedding 0.4 percent on profit-taking.

The mood in the market was buttressed by the S&P 500, which briefly topped the 2,000 mark for the first time in history on Monday, and closed up 0.48 percent at 1,997.92.

European stocks led the rally in global equities overnight, with many country and regional indexes climbing more than 1 percent, as investors grew convinced that the ECB could adopt quantitative easing as soon as next week.

On Wall Street, the biggest winners were financial shares, seen as the main beneficiary of any cheap money from the ECB at a time the U.S. Federal Reserve is preparing the ground to exit zero interest rates.

The euro fell to $1.31785 in early Asian trade, its lowest level since early September last year, with a test of the $1.30 mark seen as inevitable. It last stood at $1.3199.

Speculation that the ECB may buy debt of euro zone countries drove down yields on bonds from Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland and others to all-time lows.

German 10-year yields hit a record low of 0.926 percent, before pulling back to 0.95 percent.

Germany's Ifo business climate index published on Monday showed business confidence sagged for the fourth straight month, further fanning expectations of major asset purchases by the ECB.

In contrast, the US dollar was broadly firm, with its index against a basket of currencies hitting a one-year high of 82.613.

Against the yen, the dollar stepped back slightly to 103.90 yen, but still not far off its seven-month peak of 104.49 yen hit on Monday.

In the face of the greenback's broad strength, the New Zealand dollar dropped to a six-month low of $0.8311. - Reuters