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Japan’s inflation rate slowed more than forecast in December, adding to central bank chief Haruhiko Kuroda’s challenges in reflating the world’s third-biggest economy.

Consumer prices excluding fresh food rose 2.5 percent from a year earlier, the statistics bureau said Friday in Tokyo. That was less than the median projection of 2.6 percent in a Bloomberg News survey of economists. Stripped of the effect of consumption-tax hike last April, core inflation — the Bank of Japan’s key measure — was 0.5 percent.

The slide in oil could cause inflation to slow in coming months before helping boost growth and stoking price pressures in the longer term, Kuroda said last week after the Bank of Japan lowered its forecast for the year from April. The BOJ will adjust its monetary stimulus to keep inflation headed toward its 2 percent goal if expectations for price gains among firms and consumers deteriorate, Kuroda said.

“The BOJ is in a wait-and-see mode for a while,” Yoshiki Shinke, an economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute, said before the report. “Inflation will keep slowing until it hits bottom around July or August. It seems to be a question of how and when the BOJ will admit inflation is off its path.”

Energy prices fell 1.4 percent in December from the previous month, according to the data. The price of Dubai crude — a benchmark for Middle East supply to Asia — fell to $44 per barrel this week from $111 in June.

Policymakers have signaled flexibility on the timing of achieving the 2 percent price gains, a goal Kuroda said would be reached in about two years when he launched the asset purchase program in April 2013. Kuroda said on Jan. 21 that the plunge in oil could delay inflation reaching the target in fiscal 2015 starting in April.

Economy Minister Akira Amari said Tuesday neither the government nor the BOJ has committed to a strict schedule for meeting the target.

The median estimate of core inflation among the BOJ’s nine policy board members was cut to 1 percent for fiscal 2015 from 1.7 percent three months earlier, the BOJ said Jan. 21.

Fifteen of 31 economists expect core consumer prices to decline around midyear, according to a Bloomberg News survey conducted from Jan. 9 to 14. Barclays Plc. lowered its forecast Wednesday, predicting core CPI gains will slow to as low as 0.2 percent in June.

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