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Friday, Dec. 21, 2012

BOJ will ease more, denies Abe pressed

Shirakawa ups asset buys to ¥101 trillion, calls the move natural


Staff writer

The Bank of Japan on Thursday boosted its asset-purchasing program from ¥91 trillion to about ¥101 trillion and promised to review its medium- to long-term price stability goals next month.

Wrapping up a two-day meeting of the BOJ Policy Board that began Wednesday, BOJ Gov. Masaaki Shirakawa said the decision, which was expected by the market, was not a result of political pressure but a continuation of the central bank's monetary easing tactics. It was the third increase in the busy bank's asset-buying program in the past four months. The size of the increase was about the same.

The announcement followed a Tuesday meeting between Shirakawa and Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe, who is expected to become prime minister next week. The meeting set off speculation Shirakawa was pressed to take more aggressive monetary measures to stimulate the economy and set a more ambitious inflation goal.

"This is a policy aimed at stabilizing the economy and prices," Shirakawa said, denying the move was the result of pressure from the conservative LDP chief.

Shirakawa, whose term as BOJ governor ends in April, said the revised price stability target is an annual process.

Regarding the LDP's pitch to double the inflation target to 2 percent from 1 percent, the BOJ chief said the bank will study the topic until the next Policy Board meeting in January.

"We do not know what the outcome of our discussions will be" at this point, he said while pointing out that Japan's inflation rate was below 2 percent even during the heady days of the 1980s bubble economy.

Abe has taken aim at Shirakawa and his policies. During the election campaign, Abe repeatedly threatened to revise the Bank of Japan Law to weaken its independence and pressured it to set an inflation target of at least 2 percent.

He has also proposed launching a fiscal spending surge to halt the nation's stubborn deflation with public works projects and has even hinted at replacing Shirakawa with someone more politically cooperative when the governor's term expires in April.

Abe's policies, dubbed "Abenomics" by the media, have already caused the yen to wilt against the dollar and the Nikkei average to spike through 10,000 even though he isn't yet prime minister.

Abe welcomed the BOJ's decision Thursday and said further easing and stoking inflation remain the key policies of his party.

"One by one, the policies that we have called for are taking form," he told a gathering of party members in Tokyo. Shirakawa refrained from commenting on Abe and his economic acumen, saying it would be "rude" to do so at a news conference.

The Policy Board unanimously agreed to maintain its zero-interest-rate policy as expected and said the economy was expected to remain weak.

The economy "has addedsomewhat weak movement and is expected to remain so for the time being," the BOJ said, noting that overseas economies remain in a "deceleration phase."

The bank will "undertake further aggressive monetary easing policies in order to prevent the economy from deviating from the path of returning to sustainable growth with price stability," it said.

The BOJ's third boost in the asset-purchasing program in the past four months nevertheless saw economists saying the bank can do more against deflation, noting achieving 2 percent inflation in consumer prices won't be easy.

"As the governor has repeatedly said, the task isn't something the BOJ can tackle on its own," Keisuke Naito, a chief economist at Mizuho Research Institute, told The Japan Times.

Naito said the shrinking population and growing gap between supply and demand are important structural issues that must be addressed by the government if the BOJ is to reach an inflation target.

The BOJ's monetary policies are also worth questioning, since they have done little so far to end deflation, he said.

The BOJ "will be required to do more than it has been doing" with the LDP in goverment, he said.

Mitsumaru Kumagai, chief economist at Daiwa Institute of Research, agreed.

He said monetary easing alone won't be enough to inflate the consumer price index by 2 percent and it will "only be achievable if the BOJ and the government work on it jointly."

As for the LDP's plan to boost government spending, Kumagai said Abe should be extremely careful not to worsen Japan's already precarious fiscal balance.



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