• Kyodo, Bloomberg


Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda pledged Monday that the central bank will make every effort to ensure stability in financial markets roiled by the coronavirus outbreak.

Issuing an emergency statement, Kuroda said the BOJ “will closely monitor future developments, and will strive to provide ample liquidity and ensure stability in financial markets through appropriate market operations and asset purchases.”

The move comes amid expectations that the world’s major central banks will prepare a joint assault on the recent volatility in financial markets, with the U.S. Federal Reserve issuing a similar statement last week signaling its willingness to cut interest rates to support the economy.

Taking their lead from Wall Street, Tokyo stocks plunged last week. The benchmark Nikkei 225 average lost more than 2,200 points, its biggest weekly fall since October 2008, when the global financial crisis struck.

The BOJ quickly showed what kind of action it’s willing to take by offering to buy ¥500 billion ($4.6 billion) in government bonds with a repurchase agreement to provide liquidity to market participants.

But its statement didn’t clarify the range of measures the BOJ might employ. The central bank could also ramp up purchases of other assets, such as exchange-traded funds, or conduct other emergency operations to secure liquidity to maintain stability in Japan’s markets.

Kuroda’s pledge and subsequent offer pushed Japanese stocks back toward positive ground and weakened the yen.

“The Fed statement and a plunge in stock markets pushed Kuroda to issue the statement,” said Naomi Muguruma, a senior market economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co.

She said the bond operation was a signal to show the BOJ’s willingness to take action but characterized it as a pre-emptive move, given there is still no shortage of funds in the markets.

In the Fed’s statement Friday, Chairman Jerome Powell opened the door to a rate cut at the Fed’s March 17 to 18 meeting by pledging to “act as appropriate” to support the economy. Traders and Wall Street banks now expect the Fed to lower rates in the coming weeks.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economists said Sunday the Fed may even act before its official gathering and perhaps in coordination with other central banks.

Kuroda’s statement didn’t go as far as the Fed’s, Muguruma said, repeating her view that the BOJ is not likely to further lower its negative interest rate, given the mounting side effects of the bank’s easing program.

“The difference is that the BOJ emphasized it’s taking actions for the stability of markets while the Fed suggested further easing,” she said. “Today’s statement doesn’t change my view that there is no easing in coming months.”

Economists see the yen as one of the key factors for assessing how willing the BOJ will be prepared to engage its main policy levers should the jitters being created by the outbreak grow.

“I think the BOJ will be on high alert should the dollar-yen fall below 105,” said Yuichi Kodama at Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance, noting that the increased likelihood of Fed rate cuts could strengthen the currency.

“Global financial and capital markets have been unstable recently with growing uncertainties about the outlook for economic activity due to the spread of the novel coronavirus,” Kuroda said in the statement.

The spread of the virus, which originated in China, has been impacting production and exports around the world, causing fears of a significant economic slowdown.

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