Japan’s benchmark inflation gauge topped estimates in January, supporting the case for the Bank of Japan to continue moving toward ending its negative interest rate policy.

Consumer prices excluding fresh food rose 2% from a year ago, exceeding the consensus estimate of 1.9% and in line with the BOJ’s inflation target, figures from the internal affairs ministry showed Tuesday. The yen strengthened less than 0.1% after the data.

The stronger-than-expected inflation data will sustain market speculation that the BOJ is nearing its first interest rate hike since 2007, a move that a majority of BOJ watchers expects to happen by April.