Japan’s consumer inflation eased more than expected while staying above the Bank of Japan’s target as board members get ready to revise their price forecasts next week.

Consumer prices excluding fresh food rose 2.6% in March from a year ago, cooling from February’s 2.8% gain, the internal affairs ministry reported Friday. The reading compared with the consensus estimate of 2.7%. A deeper measure of inflation that strips out fresh food and energy prices cooled to 2.9%, slipping below 3% for the first time since November 2022 and missing the 3% estimate.

Even with the slowdown, the pace of inflation has now stayed at or above the BOJ’s 2% target every month for two full years, offering support for the central bank to continue normalizing policy if that trend continues. The BOJ is widely expected to hold policy at its April meeting following its first rate hike in 17 years in March. Economists and investors will keep a close eye on the bank’s forecasts for inflation going forward as they try to gauge when the BOJ will move again.