Yen, Asian shares mark time before BOJ decision

TOKYO (Reuters) - The yen and Asian shares marked time on Tuesday as investors awaited the outcome of the Bank of Japan's policy meeting, with expectations running high for bold monetary easing measures aimed at reflating the world's third-largest economy.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> was up 0.1 percent. The index was pulled down on Monday after briefly touching 17-1/2-month highs as Malaysian stocks suffered their biggest drop in 16 months on election risks.

European shares rose on Monday near two-year highs, with investors betting on an improving economy in Europe. Wall Street was closed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Australian shares <.axjo> were up 0.5 percent to a fresh 20-month high early on Tuesday while South Korean shares <.ks11> opened almost flat.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei average <.n225> opened up 0.2 percent. The Nikkei has faced choppy trading over the past two sessions as the yen became more volatile ahead of the BOJ meeting. Tokyo shares have been rising in tandem with the yen's slide against major currencies. The Nikkei tumbled 1.5 percent on Monday after investors booked profits from the index's 2.9 percent rally on Friday. <.t/>

Early on Tuesday, the dollar inched down 0.1 percent against the yen at 89.51 yen, after touching a fresh 2-1/2-year high of 90.25 yen on Monday. The euro fell 0.3 percent to 119.11 yen, off its peak since May 2011 of 120.73 hit on Friday.

Markets have priced in the BOJ boosting its asset-buying and lending program by another 10 trillion yen and doubling its inflation target to 2 percent. The BOJ will announce its decision after it ends its two-day meeting later on Tuesday.

Sean Callow, senior currency strategist at Westpac bank in Sydney, noted a bit more uncertainty over the policy decision, given speculation about open-ended easing and removing the 0.1 percent floor on short term interest rates.

"The biggest risk for USD/JPY is a cautious 10 trillion yen increase in asset purchases and not much else new aside from the 2 percent target. The best case for USD/JPY bulls is an open-ended commitment to increase quantitative easing until the inflation target is met," Callow said in a note.

There's a perception in markets that even if investors cut their yen short positions in disappointment over the BOJ result, the yen's rebound was likely to be limited relative to its 13 percent decline against the dollar and a 20 percent drop versus the euro over the past two months, mainly due to expectations for more aggressive BOJ easing to drive Japan out of years of deflation and support the economy.

Overall market sentiment was likely to be supported by signs of a compromise to avert a U.S. fiscal crisis.

Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives have scheduled a vote on Wednesday on a nearly four-month extension of U.S. borrowing capacity, aimed at avoiding a fight over the looming federal debt ceiling and shifting their negotiating leverage for spending cuts to other fiscal deadlines.

The Bundesbank said on Monday Germany's economic slump should be short-lived, adding that the euro zone's largest economy could have already bottomed out.

U.S. crude futures were down 0.2 percent to $95.35 a barrel.

Gold was steady around $1,689.81 an ounce.

(Editing by editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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