There was temporary confusion Thursday afternoon over whether the government would release a fresh economic package in response to a recent plunge in stock prices before Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visits the United States later this month.

Finance Minister Masajuro Shiokawa told reporters after an afternoon meeting with Taku Yamasaki, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, that the package would be drawn up and released before Koizumi’s trip.

“It is difficult to find steps that would have an immediate effect,” he said, “but we should issue something.”

But at a news conference later in the day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda denied that any package was being planned before Koizumi’s trip.

Then Vice Finance Minister Toshiro Muto joined that chorus, telling a separate news conference that he was unaware of any plan to draw up such a package in the reported time frame.

Muto noted that the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, a key government panel, is scheduled to meet on Sept. 20, and various opinions will likely be exchanged.

Shiokawa later cleared up the confusion by explaining that he and Yamasaki have agreed on the need for economic measures but have not discussed any specific timeline.

The package was first mentioned Wednesday by senior LDP lawmaker Hidenao Nakagawa, Fukuda’s predecessor.

Nakagawa said the prime minister plans to compile a new reform program, including steps to fight deflation, around Sept. 20.

Earlier, sources in the government and ruling parties said that among the steps being considered are the injection of public funds into banks to bolster their capital bases and the reinforcement of bad-debt buyback functions of the state-run Resolution and Collection Corp.

At yet another news conference Thursday, Economy, Trade and Industry Vice Minister Seiji Murata said the government is considering hammering out planned tax breaks for fiscal 2003 as early as possible, along with drastic deregulatory steps in areas such as public welfare.

“While tax breaks may boost the corporate sector, consumers’ worries about their future after retirement, for example, can be tackled by, say, a drastic deregulation of welfare,” he said.

Share prices on the Tokyo Stock Exchange rebounded Thursday after the benchmark Nikkei Stock Average tumbled to a 19-year low a day earlier.

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