• Reuters, Kyodo, Bloomberg


The Bank of Japan on Friday unveiled a plan to probe more effective ways to achieve its 2% inflation target, following in the foot steps of its U.S. and European counterparts as a renewed spike in infections threatened to derail a fragile recovery.

As widely expected, the central bank kept monetary policy steady and extended by six months a range of measures aimed at easing funding strains of companies hit by COVID-19.

“Given the economy and prices are projected to remain under downward pressure for a prolonged period due to the impact of COVID-19, the BOJ will conduct an assessment on further effective and sustainable monetary easing,” it said in a statement on its policy decision.

The BOJ will announce the findings of the review, which it says will not lead to any changes to its yield curve control framework, in March.

“We will examine operations under yield curve control and our asset purchases,” BOJ Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda told a news conference.

“Obviously, there will be no change to our commitment to achieve our 2% inflation target and our pledge to maintain ultra-loose policy until inflation stably exceeds 2%,” he said.

“We will also not tweak our negative rate policy.”

The surprise move underscores the growing concern among BOJ policymakers over the diminishing return and rising cost of prolonged easing such as the hit to bank profits from years of ultra-low rates, analysts say.

“Today’s surprise was the announcement of its plan to review its monetary easing. That would be in line with recent moves by European Central Bank and the (U.S.) Federal Reserve to examine the course of monetary policy,” said Yasunari Ueno, chief market economist at Mizuho Securities.

“The BOJ must have thought it would be left behind in the global monetary policy trend if it did not follow suit.”

Data released earlier in the day showed core consumer prices dropped at their fastest pace in a decade in November, stoking fears of a return to deflation and keeping policymakers under pressure to take stronger steps to prop up growth.

The BOJ said it will not change its yield curve control or quantitative easing framework.

The economy will likely continue improving, albeit at a moderate pace, and vigilance is needed against the impact of COVID-19, the BOJ said, pledging to take additional easing steps if judged necessary.

The central bank has taken a series of steps to ease funding strains amid the pandemic. They include the provision of funding to banks that extend zero-interest loans to struggling companies and buying commercial paper and corporate bonds from lenders to ensure ample liquidity in the banking system.

The six-month extension to the program comes as small and midsize companies appear to be facing more funding difficulties than larger ones.

The outlook is increasingly uncertain for businesses in the services sector, including hotels and restaurants, as rising coronavirus cases prompt more people to refrain from going out and to avoid contact with others.

Japanese Bankers Association Chairman Kanetsugu Mike said Thursday that the support program had been a big help to companies, but warned that loan demand would start rising again if firms run short on cash amid any renewed restrictions on movement or business activity.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Federal Reserve pledged to keep its interest rates near zero and continue with asset purchases until “substantial progress is seen toward achieving full employment and an average 2% inflation over time.”

The European Central Bank decided last week to expand its asset-buying program to cope with the pandemic.

Japan’s economy rebounded in July-September from its worst postwar contraction in the second quarter, though the third wave of infections is dampening prospects for a strong revival.

The government announced this month a fresh ¥73.6 trillion spending package to speed up the recovery.

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