Equities, oil steady; euro dips in holiday-thinned trade

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Oil and equities dawdled on Monday near multi-month highs scaled after robust Chinese trade data last week, while the euro slipped to a two-week low as uncertainty surrounded a political scandal in Spain and a looming election in Italy.

With the Lunar New Year holiday shutting most Asian financial centers, including those in Japan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea, trading was light and volatile on many of those exchanges that remained open.

European markets were expected to likewise lack momentum in the absence of major economic drivers and ahead of a meeting of the Eurogroup, where the discussion around the risk of a global round of competitive currency devaluation could re-emerge.

Financial bookmakers called major European indexes <.ftse><.gdaxi><.fchi>to open flat.

Australian shares <.axjo> were flat after closing at a 34-month high on Friday following positive data from China, the most important consumer of Australia's commodity exports.

S&P 500 index futures inched up 0.1 percent after the Wall Street benchmark reached a five-year high on Friday.

Brent crude oil, which touched its highest in nine months on Friday, was unchanged just below $119 a barrel.

Foreign exchange trading was choppy in thin volumes, with what traders interpreted as slightly dovish comments from the European Central Bank last week also weighing on the euro, which has shed around 2.5 percent since reaching a 15-month high above $1.37 on February 1.

The euro briefly fell to $1.3325 on Monday, after stop-loss selling was triggered below $1.3340, traders said, before recovering to stand little changed around $1.3370.

There are growing worries about Spain as a scandal on secret cash payments engulfs the prime minister, while confidence in Italy has been shaken in the run-up to a February 24-25 election. "The euro's upside is likely to be limited and short-lived," said Aroop Chatterjee, an analyst at Barclays Capital.

"Better financial conditions are likely to be offset by rising political risks, market positioning and a weaker economy. We expect the euro to be on a declining trend beginning in Q2."

The yen pared a little of its recent heavy losses after Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso said it had weakened more than intended.

The currency, which has been an easy one-way bet for weeks as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe put intense pressure on the central bank to take bold action to revive Japan's fragile economy, also recovered from its recent 4-week trough against the Aussie, the latter changing hands at 95.25 yen AUDJPY=R, compared with a peak of 97.42 set on Tuesday.

(Additional reporting by Ian Chua in Sydney and Vidya Ranganathan in Singapore; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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