Bank of Japan keeps policy steady, maintains upbeat view of economy

Bank of Japan (BOJ) Governor Haruhiko Kuroda gestures during a news conference at the BOJ headquarters in Tokyo June 19, 2015. The Bank of Japan maintained its massive stimulus program and its upbeat assessment of the economy. (THOMAS PETER/REUTERS)

The Bank of Japan maintained its massive stimulus program and its upbeat assessment of the economy on Friday, signalling its conviction that growth will strengthen enough to accelerate inflation to its 2 per cent target without more monetary easing.

With business sentiment improving and capital expenditure picking up, the BOJ maintained its rosy assessment that the economy continues to recover.

As widely expected, the central bank also kept intact its pledge to increase base money at an annual pace of 80 trillion yen ($650-billion) through aggressive asset purchases. The decision was made by an 8-1 vote.

BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said companies are increasingly diverting their strong profits into capital expenditure and wages, underpinning the economic recovery.

“Exports are picking up and will improve gradually due to an expected recovery in the overseas economy and support from a weak yen,” Kuroda told a news conference.

The BOJ also revised up its view on housing investment to say it “appeared to be picking up.” Last month, it said housing investment was bottoming out with some signs of a pick-up.

Kuroda reiterated that he expects consumer inflation to hit the BOJ’s 2 per cent target around April to September 2016, a timeframe many analysts believe is too optimistic.

Japan’s economy has emerged from last year’s recession as consumers recovered from the pain from a sales tax hike and capital expenditure grew.

But the nine-member board is hardly complacent, with soft exports re-emerging as a source of headache.

Growth is seen slowing to 1.3 per cent in April-June from an annualized 3.9 per cent expansion in the first quarter, according to a Reuters poll.

Markets expect the BOJ to ease again in October, though some investors have pushed back their forecasts for more action after the stronger-than-expected first-quarter growth figure.

“We have seen some slightly weak economic data recently, but this is not enough to derail the recovery,” said Shuji Tonouchi, senior fixed income strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

Some analysts say the BOJ may become more hesitant to ease for fear of weakening the yen further and drawing criticism from lawmakers already fretting about the downside of a weaker yen.

Kuroda triggered a yen spike last week when he told parliament that the yen’s real, effective exchange rate was already “very low.”

Analysts say Kuroda may be mindful of concerns voiced by lawmakers such as Tomomi Inada, a ruling party policy head who said policymakers must be mindful of the pain a weak yen inflicts on households via higher import costs.

The BOJ also said it will reduce the number of its policy-setting meetings from 2016 but issue more frequently a report on its long-term economic and price projections, a move in line with a trend among major central banks.


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