The Bank of Japan has done everything it can to normalize policy under Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda’s watch and is now set to ride out the rest of his term without any major changes, according to a former senior central bank official.
“The BOJ has reached the end of the line on normalization for now,” said Hideo Hayakawa, referring to a series of tweaks to the central bank’s stimulus framework in March that enabled it to cut back its asset buying.
“Unless the current leadership suddenly says it’s gotten policy wrong all this time, it’s pretty much done all it can,” the former executive director said in an interview, adding that the pandemic has underlined the importance of fiscal policy in helping the economy rather than a monetary approach.
Hayakawa’s comments suggest that the BOJ will remain in a holding pattern on policy until at least April 2023 when Kuroda is scheduled to leave.
The BOJ says the fine-tuning was aimed at making its stimulus more sustainable over the longer term after its biggest policy review since 2016. Around half of economists agree that the tweaks shored up the stimulus framework, but about 40% see them as a step toward policy normalization, according to a Bloomberg survey.
In its quarterly economic report at a policy review meeting next week, the BOJ will likely nudge up its growth forecast for the year started April to 4% from 3.9%, the survey showed.
At next week’s gathering, Kuroda and his board will discuss the outlook for an economy that appears to have weathered a second state of emergency better than expected, helped by strong overseas demand, especially from China.
While a brighter U.S. economic outlook also augurs well for a strong rebound in Japan this fiscal year, the BOJ will probably need to factor in the possibility of a third state of emergency in Tokyo and other cities as virus cases tick up again amid a slow vaccine rollout.
The bank is also likely to confirm that the bank won’t hit its 2% price target before Kuroda’s term ends. For the year starting in April 2023, economists expect the central bank to forecast 1.1% inflation, well short of its goal even after a decade of massive easing.
Still, the vast majority of economists foresee a long policy hold rather than any ramping up of stimulus, following last month’s policy review.
A key point of the adjustments last month was making the buying of exchange-traded funds more flexible, Hayakawa said. The BOJ had already made its bond buying more flexible by changing its focus to interest rates in 2016 and by removing a purchase guideline last year, he said.
The ETF buying had attracted increasing criticism that the bank was helping prop up stock prices already at three-decade highs.
The bank demonstrated its new flexibility on Tuesday when it didn’t buy ETFs for the first time since at least 2016 even after the Topix stock index fell more than 1% in the morning session. On Wednesday the bank did buy ETFs, but only after stocks dropped 2.2% in the morning.
“It’s not worth making problems bigger and bigger through massive bond or ETF buying,” said Hayakawa, who left the bank in 2013 and has generally taken a skeptical view of Kuroda’s efforts to reflate the economy. “Those purchases aren’t bringing the bank any closer to its inflation target.”
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