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BOJ holds course as analysts delay action calls

by Toru Fujioka and Masahiro Hidaka

Bloomberg

The Bank of Japan on Friday raised its view of overseas economies while maintaining unprecedented stimulus launched as part of BOJ Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda’s bid to stoke 2 percent inflation in two years.

The central bank will continue to expand the monetary base at a pace of ¥60 trillion to ¥70 trillion per year, it said in a statement, matching the estimates of all 33 economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

A rebound in consumer sentiment and signs of strength in business investment indicate some resilience in the economy after April’s hike in the consumption tax.

At the same time, a rebound in the yen after last year’s 18 percent drop against the dollar threatens to undercut inflation, with most economists surveyed by Bloomberg forecasting the BOJ will boost stimulus this year to achieve its goal.

“The BOJ is growing more confident about the economy and its outlook,” said Naoki Iizuka, an economist at Citigroup Inc. “Still, weakness in consumer spending and a halt in yen declines make it doubtful inflation will accelerate, prompting the BOJ to add to easing in October.”

Core consumer prices, which exclude fresh food but not energy, rose 3.2 percent in April, the fastest pace since 1991. But stripping out the impact of the 3-point hike in the sales tax, core prices — the BOJ’s preferred inflation gauge — only climbed 1.5 percent, according to a BOJ estimate.

The economy is seen contracting at an annualized pace of 4.3 percent in the quarter through June, following 6.7 percent growth in the first quarter, ahead of the tax hike, a separate Bloomberg survey showed. The poll points to an expansion of 2.2 percent in the third quarter.

Overseas economies “are recovering,” the BOJ said in a statement after the policy decision. Last month, the bank said they were “starting to recover.”

Signs of resilience in the economy after the tax hike and the confidence expressed by Kuroda have led a growing number of economists to delay, or abandon, calls for additional easing.

Consumer confidence rebounded in May from a slump in April, reaching the highest since January. The outlook among such people as taxi drivers and restaurant workers, so-called economy watchers, rose to the highest level in five months, according to a separate Cabinet Office survey.

Kuroda said June 7 that the BOJ’s easing is having the intended effects and is leading to an improvement in financial markets, the economy, prices and expectations.

Forty-two percent of economists forecast the BOJ will boost stimulus in October, which displaced July as the most popular pick for action, according to the Bloomberg survey conducted June 3 to 6. Fifty-eight percent see BOJ action by the end of this year, dropping from 75 percent last month.

It’s premature to “write off” further easing, Marcel Thieliant, a Singapore-based economist at Capital Economics, wrote in an emailed note after the decision. Many of the structural reforms that could be included in the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s latest “third arrow” of growth strategy due later this month could damp inflation, he said.

“The upshot is that further monetary easing is still likely to be required,” Thieliant said.

The government unveiled a draft of its revamped growth strategy this week, promising to push for “growth-oriented corporate tax reform” as investors look for a schedule for reducing the levy, among the highest in the industrialized world.