Business / Economy

BOJ doesn't need more stimulus: top-rated economist

by Kevin Buckland and Shigeki Nozawa

Bloomberg

Japan’s top-rated economist says the central bank doesn’t need more stimulus, defying the consensus.

Ryutaro Kono, chief Japan economist in Tokyo at BNP Paribas SA and who was voted No. 1 by Nikkei Veritas magazine in six of the past seven years, says lower oil prices will stimulate growth and policymakers will favor yen stability.

Twenty-six of 33 of economists surveyed by Bloomberg forecast that the Bank of Japan will accelerate asset purchases by the end of October to meet its 2 percent inflation target. Ten-year inflation swaps slid to a two-year low of 0.74 percent this week, Meitan Tradition data showed.

“There’s a chance the inflation rate will turn negative in April, but for an energy importer like Japan, the drop in oil will act like a broad tax cut in supporting growth,” Kono said. “The BOJ shouldn’t really take any additional steps to weaken the yen further given how the negative impact is becoming more apparent now.”

BOJ Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda said Thursday that an almost 60 percent drop in crude prices from last year’s high in June was a “big plus” for the economy, which fell back into recession following a tax increase in April that sapped consumption.

Economy minister Akira Amari said this week that excessive currency weakness or strength are both inappropriate.

The number of companies citing the yen’s drop as a reason for going bankrupt almost tripled to 345 cases in 2014, according to Teikoku Databank Ltd.

The BOJ is buying as much as ¥12 trillion of sovereign debt each month to keep borrowing costs low and pump money into the economy. That is about equivalent to the Finance’s Ministry’s sales of coupon-bearing securities.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year note sank to a record 0.195 percent this month, while those on maturities as long as five years turned negative. The 10-year security yielded 0.29 percent Friday.

Expectations for consumer inflation over the next decade have also been falling. The 10-year break-even rate, the difference between yields on conventional and index-linked bonds, dropped as low as 0.701 percent this month, the least since the government reintroduced so-called linkers in 2013, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

The outlook for achieving the target has changed from a yellow traffic light to a red one, said Makoto Suzuki, a senior bond strategist in Tokyo at Okasan Securities Group Inc.

While falling oil and a stronger yen have raised expectations for additional easing, the effectiveness of bond purchases is reaching its limit, leaving the BOJ short on options, he said.

The yen has rebounded as much as 5.2 percent since reaching the weakest level versus the dollar last month since 2007. It declined at least 11 percent in each of the past three years, after Shinzo Abe pledged unlimited monetary stimulus during his campaign to become prime minister for a second time in 2012.

Amari said Tuesday that neither the administration nor the BOJ had committed to an exact schedule for reaching stable 2 percent inflation. The comments came after Kuroda said in an interview with Bloomberg in Davos last week that the bank may need to be more creative with policy in the future.

“The government is extremely sensitive to public opinion,” said Akito Fukunaga, the Tokyo-based chief rates strategist at Barclays Plc. “Current policy settings are proving effective in pushing down rates. The BOJ is already on the path to stable 2 percent inflation.”

Barclays joins BNP and Okasan to be among the only five financial firms whose economists don’t expect any additional BOJ stimulus, according to the Bloomberg survey.

Wages adjusted for inflation dropped for a 17th straight month in November, according to government data. Retail sales unexpectedly fell in December, a report showed Thursday.

Kono, who expects the BOJ to reach its inflation goal, says the focus needs to shift away from monetary policy.

“The positive effects of cheaper oil and a pause in yen weakness will soon become evident in the economy,” he said. “What’s needed now is a structural reform.”