TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares eased on Thursday as markets awaited the European Central Bank's policy decision later in the day, while the euro was pressured by widespread expectations of a rate cut to support fragile euro zone growth.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan inched down 0.2 percent after hitting a seven-week high on Wednesday.
Japan's Nikkei average opened down 0.3 percent, after closing at a two-month high on Wednesday.
U.S. markets were closed on Wednesday for the Independence Day holiday.
"With a lack of cues from the U.S. market which was closed overnight and the market waiting to see what cards the ECB will put on the table, trading looks to be constrained and aimless today," said Lee Young-gon, an analyst at Hana Daetoo Securities.
A Reuters poll of economists showed a majority of economists expect the ECB to cut its main rate by 25 basis points to 0.75 percent on Thursday, while money market traders are evenly split on whether the central bank will cut the deposit rate, a separate survey showed.
The euro eased 0.1 percent at $1.2512, stuck in a recent $1.24-$1.27 range against the U.S. dollar.
Against riskier currencies, the euro held near record lows, standing at A$1.2195 against the Aussie, near its record low of A$1.2124 hit in early February, and at NZ$1.5580 against the kiwi, just above its lifetime low of NZ$1.5541 hit on Wednesday.
"We suggest that selling the EUR and buying a relatively 'high beta' currency, such as the AUD, would perform well in light of a more aggressive ECB response to the problems" in Europe, Barclays Capital analysts said in research note.
"An important factor pointing to looser policy is growth prospects in both the periphery and core economies," they said.
Surveys suggest all of Europe's biggest economies are in recession or heading there and there is little sign things will improve soon.
Also on Thursday, the Bank of England is expected to launch a third round of monetary stimulus at its meeting.
Oil extended losses, with U.S. crude futures down 0.8 percent at $86.92 a barrel and Brent down 0.1 percent at $99.70 a barrel.
After Europe's central bank decisions, markets will turn to Friday's key monthly U.S. jobs report for clues over whether the Federal Reserve will take additional easing steps. Nonfarm payrolls were expected to see an addition of 90,000 workers in June while the unemployment rate holding steady at 8.2 percent.
Signs of global growth deceleration underpinned hopes for further monetary policy stimulus and stemmed losses in world stocks, the euro and oil prices on Wednesday.
Strong bids at a German bond auction highlighted investor doubts over the implementation of steps agreed last week to contain surging borrowing costs in struggling euro zone states, most urgently in Spain, and shore up the region's banks.
The 10-year Spanish bond yield remained above 6 percent, although falling from above a critical 7 percent level seen before the European agreement, and Italy's 10-year yields also stayed elevated near 6 percent.
While leading economies in the West and Asia took a beating from the euro zone's protracted debt crisis, consumer confidence and imports were robust in Southeast Asia, highlighting the region's resilience to the global economic downdraft as strong domestic demand helps offset weaker exports.
(Additional reporting by Joonhee Yu in Seoul; Editing by Michael Perry)
Updated Date: Jul 05, 2012 06:15 AM