The Bank of Japan took a less pessimistic view of the economy while leaving its aggressive monetary stimulus untouched a day after Yoshihide Suga took over as prime minister pledging to continue his predecessor’s stance on monetary and fiscal policy.
The BOJ kept its key interest rate at negative 0.1 percent and left its asset purchases unchanged, according to a statement from the bank Thursday. The result was expected by 95 percent of 44 economists surveyed by Bloomberg.
Suga, who was elected Wednesday for the country’s top job, has indicated he sees no need for any immediate changes in BOJ policies that have helped keep financial markets stable and get credit to companies amid COVID-19. Economists see Thursday’s decision fitting in with a pattern of little change for the time being, barring any sharp worsening of the pandemic or a run on markets.
“Until the new administration gets settled, the BOJ will sit on the fence and monitor the effect of its policy unless markets move a lot,” said Nobuyasu Atago, economist at Okasan Securities. “The economic outlook is improving somewhat. So, even if consumer prices turn negative in the short-term, the BOJ will be able to say price expectations are holding up in the long term.”
The bank’s upgrade of its economic assessment was the first since the virus hit, reflecting a bottoming of Japan’s slump.
The BOJ said the economy had started to pick up with activity resuming gradually. Overseas economies were improving from a state of “significant depression” and this had helped turn the tide for production at home and exports. Consumption was also improving gradually, the bank said.
Still, with the pandemic continuing to impact countries worldwide, the pace of improvement in Japan’s economy was only likely to be moderate, the bank added.
Analysts see gross domestic product rebounding an annualized 15.1 percent this quarter — a big jump, but not enough to make up for the record contraction in the three months through June.
The BOJ’s main focus remains on aiding company financing amid the pandemic and the bank would only likely increase its support should demand for loans start to face limits, said economist Masaki Kuwahara at Nomura Securities Co.
“Suga has said he wants to continue the path that’s been taken so far. If monetary policy were to change with the administration, it would cast doubt on central bank independence. So I don’t expect any major change for some time,” Kuwahara added.
The BOJ decision comes just hours after the U.S. Federal Reserve unveiled its latest policy guidance, committing to inflation that averages 2 percent over time and forecasting near-zero rates to continue through 2023.
“The BOJ is already acutely aware that it can’t raise rates until at least 2023 or before the Fed. The yen isn’t going to shoot up significantly because of any policy difference between the Fed and BOJ as they are basically doing the same thing,” said Yoshimasa Maruyama, chief market economist at SMBC Nikko Securities.
Still, Suga’s vocal campaign against the high cost of mobile phone services for consumers suggests he may place less importance on the BOJ’s 2 percent inflation target than his former boss Shinzo Abe did. Data due Friday is expected to show the consumer price index dropping back into negative territory.
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