BRUSSELS - Eurozone inflation remained lower than expected in December, official data said on Tuesday, adding pressure on the European Central Bank to once again ramp up its efforts to boost the economy in Europe.

ECB president Mario Draghi disappointed markets last month with a limited bid to revive the struggling eurozone given near-zero inflation levels across the 19 countries that share the euro.

The EU's Eurostat statistics agency said inflation was unchanged in December at a moribund 0.2 percent, lower than analysts' forecast of 0.3 percent inflation for the period.

This is well below the ECB's official target of near or just below 2.0 percent and signals that successive waves of ECB action to jolt prices higher in Europe are so far ineffective.

"The failure of Eurozone inflation to pick up in December is good news for consumers' purchasing power, but it will maintain ECB concern that prolonged very low inflation could lead to a renewed weakening in inflation expectations," said Howard Archer, Chief European Economist for IHS Global Insight.

Inflation in December was again dragged down by energy prices, led by oil, but this drop slowed sharply to 5.9 percent annually instead of 7.3 percent the previous month, the data showed.

Core inflation, which strips out fluctuating energy prices as well as alcohol and tobacco, remained stable at 0.9 percent from November.

Analysts warned that oil prices were again on a downward track and could push eurozone inflation into negative territory down the road.

"With the oil price languishing below $40, headline inflation looks set to remain low in the months ahead. Unless oil prices rise, headline inflation might even briefly dip below zero again in the Summer," said economist Teunis Brosens of ING Bank in the Netherlands.

Central bankers of the 19-member eurozone are eager to fight falling prices because they can be poisonous for the economy, creating a vicious circle of falling demand and fewer jobs.

Draghi in December announced an interest rate cut that was less than investors had expected and held back from expanding the size of its bond-buying stimulus.

Critics said that action was too weak to counter deflationary pressures on the euro area economy, but ECB executive board member Yves Mersch last week said policymakers have "by no means used up all our ammunition".

While falling prices might be a short-term good for consumers, deflation can endure dangerously if consumers delay purchases in the hope of lower prices later, which in turn prompts companies to hold off investment.

"In all, then, we still think that the ECB was too timid in December and see it being forced to up the pace of its asset purchases before too long," said Jennifer McKeown, Senior European Economist at Capital Economics.

Italy opens bidding for polluting steel giant Ilva

MILAN, Jan 5, 2016 (AFP) - Italy has launched a tender to find a buyer for the Ilva steel works, one of the most polluting industrial sites in Europe, giving national and international shoppers a month to make their offers.

The government's call for bidders was published in several Italian and foreign dailies on Tuesday, notably in the United States and Britain. Would-be buyers have from January 10 to February 10 to submit offers, individually or in an alliance.

Italy's Marcegaglia, Arvedi and Amenduni, Switzerland-based Duferco, and ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steel producer, are all potentially interested in the plant in the southern city of Taranto, according to Italian media reports.

Economic Development Minister Federica Guidi gave the green light on Monday to the sale of the debt-plagued steelworks, which has been under special administration since 2013.

Any deal would have to ensure production continues, jobs are largely protected and environmental rules are respected.

A government decree in December set the deadline for completing the sale at June 30 and stipulated that 300 million euros would be loaned to the mammoth plant from the state's coffers to "facilitate the transition phase".

"The government is banking on an Italian alliance to counter the foreseeable offer from the Franco-Indian multinational ArcelorMittal," La Repubblica said.

The plant used to churn out an estimated nine million tonnes of steel per year -- about a third of the country's total production.

But experts fear a sale is far from certain in light of the currently depressed state of a global steel industry blighted by chronic over-capacity.

"Who will take on a company which loses millions each month -- some 16 million today but 50 million a month in the past -- which has very strict rules concerning pollution and which still has one furnace impounded?" La Repubblica asked.

The site, which provides work for some 14,000 people, was placed under special administration after the Riva family which owns it was accused of failing to prevent toxic emissions from spewing out across the town.

A mega-trial opened in October of industrialists, politicians and officials blamed for pollution from the plant that caused at least 400 premature deaths.

But many locals want the plant to remain open for fear of the consequences of closure in an area with an already towering unemployment level.

Dollar declines against most Asian units as oil rebounds

TOKYO, Jan 5, 2016 (AFP) - The dollar declined against most Asian currencies Tuesday as a little confidence returned to regional trading floors on the back of a rebound in oil prices.

Emerging currencies recovered some of their losses from the previous day, with the Indonesian rupiah, Malaysia's ringgit and the South Korean won higher.

On Monday, the units received a battering after a weak round of manufacturing data out of China and a disappointing factory reading in the US fuelled a sell-off in global financial markets.

The severing of diplomatic relations between old Gulf foes Saudi Arabia and Iran, over Riyadh's execution of a Shiite cleric, added to fears.

On Tuesday, analysts warned against more volatility on the back of a weak outlook for global growth.

"Investors need to be more cautious," Matthew Sherwood, Sydney-based head of investment strategy at Perpetual Ltd, told Bloomberg News.

"Growth remains a concern. How the year plays out is unclear, but the only surety is that volatility will increase."

The greenback ticked up to 119.45 yen from 119.42 yen Monday in New York, after dipping below 119 yen for the first time since October in US trade.

The euro fell to $1.0824 from $1.0833. It also dipped to 129.28 yen from 129.37 yen and is sharply down from 131.59 yen at the end of last year.

However, crude prices bounced on Tuesday in Asia as analysts said a global crude supply glut and the weaker outlook for China's huge economy were keeping any increases in check.

"Oil prices have risen, but not materially," research house Capital Economics said.

"Indeed, ample global stocks of crude and higher production elsewhere mean that geopolitical risks from the Middle East are not as great as they once were," it said in a market commentary.

The South Korean won rose 0.03 percent against the dollar, while the Indonesian rupiah gained 0.88 percent.

Malaysia's ringgit tacked on 0.15 percent, the Thai baht was up 0.03 percent and the Singapore dollar advanced 0.01 percent.

However, Taiwan's dollar declined 0.08 percent.