Business / Economy

'Bazooka-wielding' Kuroda is nominated for second term as BOJ governor

AFP-JIJI, Kyodo

The government Friday nominated Haruhiko Kuroda for a second term as central bank governor, handing the veteran finance chief more time to battle deflation and kick-start the world’s No. 3 economy.

Kuroda’s nomination was among those submitted to the Diet in a document seen by reporters, and had been widely expected.

The government also nominated BOJ Executive Director Masayoshi Amamiya, seen as playing a critical role in crafting easing policy under Kuroda, and Waseda University Professor Masazumi Wakatabe as BOJ deputy governors.

Handpicked by Shinzo Abe to steer the former economic powerhouse out of a dangerous cycle of falling prices, Kuroda has guided the key monetary plank of the prime minister’s vaunted Abenomics economic policy.

Now 73, the former president of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is on course to become the longest-serving Bank of Japan governor ever on completion of his second five-year term.

Kuroda took the helm in March 2013, with a mandate to deploy what was called a monetary “bazooka” to breathe life into the nation’s moribund economy.

He has overseen a policy of ultra-aggressive monetary easing, adopting in January 2016 the BOJ’s first-ever policy of negative interest rates — effectively charging lenders to park their cash at the central bank.

The BOJ has also pledged to keep the yield on 10-year government bonds around zero by buying as many as necessary.

A perennial optimist in the long-running war against deflation, Kuroda once famously invoked the spirit of Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up.

“I trust that many of you are familiar with the story of Peter Pan, in which it says, ‘The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it,’ ” he said in a 2015 speech about monetary policy.

“Yes, what we need is a positive attitude and conviction. Indeed, each time central banks have been confronted with a wide range of problems, they have overcome the problems by conceiving new solutions,” he said.

However, it takes more than a bullish attitude to tame deflation and Kuroda has failed in his mission to hit the inflation target of 2 percent — the most recent figure was 0.9 percent in December.

But he can point to more success recently on the GDP front, with the country currently enjoying its longest unbroken spell of quarterly growth since the bubble days of the late 1980s.

Kuroda must still win Diet approval. He faces hearings as soon as next week.

He will likely come under fire from some opposition lawmakers, who say the government’s massive bond purchases have left the country vulnerable and that the BOJ’s negative interest rate policy hurt the profitability of banks.

Critics also charge that his monetary easing has pushed down the value of the yen, making the recovery too export-led.

Market experts say that with inflationary shoots beginning to spring forth and the economy picking up, Kuroda’s greatest future challenge will be to exit the easing policy.

For now, Kuroda has pledged to stay the course.

“Our country’s economy is gradually expanding but on the other hand price movements are weak,” he told the Diet on Friday, shortly before his nomination was announced.

“Considering there is some distance to the 2 percent price-stabilization target, it’s not the time . . . for an exit from government bond-buying.”

“The Bank of Japan needs patiently to continue the current powerful monetary easing,” he added.

Economists said the government is sticking with a safe pair of hands at a time when other global central banks are weighing how to move safely away from ultra-loose monetary policies that were crafted from the ruins of the subprime mortgage crisis.

His reappointment “implies an emphasis on ‘continuity’ over ‘change’ in policy conduct, ahead of the government’s expected declaration of an end to deflation around mid-year, and ‘stability’ over ‘volatility’ in the financial markets,” Tetsufumi Yamakawa of Barclays Securities said in a report.

Kuroda has long been a man for a tight spot.

During the Asian currency crisis of the late 1990s he was instrumental in drafting the so-called Miyazawa Initiative, a $30-billion financial rescue package for struggling Southeast Asian economies.

Kuroda, who holds degrees from the University of Tokyo and the University of Oxford, spent decades at the Finance Ministry and took the top job at the Manila-based Asian Development Bank in 2005.

He speaks fluent English and has the kind of management experience, including his stint at the ADB, that has also won the approval of Japan’s business community.