BOJ set to keep ultra-low rates at Kuroda’s final policy meeting

FILE PHOTO: A man looks at a mobile phone in front of the Bank of Japan building in Tokyo, Japan June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

By Leika Kihara

TOKYO (Reuters) – The Bank of Japan (BOJ) is set to maintain ultra-low interest rates on Friday and hold off on making major changes to its controversial bond yield control policy, leaving options open ahead of a leadership transition in April.

The meeting will be the last one to be chaired by Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, who leaves behind a mixed legacy with his massive stimulus praised for pulling the economy out of deflation – but straining bank profits and distorting market function with prolonged low interest rates.

With inflation exceeding its 2% target, the BOJ has been forced to ramp up bond buying to defend a 0.5% cap set for the 10-year bond yield – at the cost of distorting the shape of the yield curve and causing dysfunction in the bond market.

U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s comments on Tuesday signaling the need for bigger-than-expected rate hikes also point to the likelihood Japanese yields will remain under upward pressure.

Many analysts thus see the days of yield curve control (YCC) numbered, though recent BOJ policymakers’ speeches underscore their preference to hold off on big policy changes at least until Kuroda’s successor, Kazuo Ueda, takes the helm in April.

“Under Ueda’s new leadership team, the BOJ will keep monetary conditions accommodative but tweak (YCC) to mitigate its side-effects,” said Mari Iwashita, chief market economist at Daiwa Securities.

“After conducting an examination of its policy framework, the BOJ will either abandon the 10-year yield target or shift to one targeting a shorter duration,” she said.

At the two-day meeting ending on Friday, the BOJ is set to maintain its short-term interest rate target at -0.1% and that for the 10-year bond yield around 0%.

Some market players bet the BOJ could widen the band set around the 10-year yield target, allowing the yield to rise up to 0.75%, from the current 0.5%, as early as Friday.

But many analysts polled by Reuters expect any tweak in YCC to happen after Ueda takes over as new governor.

The lower house of parliament on Thursday approved the government’s appointment of Ueda and his two new deputies, Shinichi Uchida and Ryozo Himino.

A lower house vote is expected later on Friday, with approval seen as a done deal due to the ruling coalition’s majority in both chambers of Diet.

Ueda will chair his first policy meeting on April 27-28, when the board will produce closely watched, fresh quarterly growth and price forecasts extending through fiscal 2025.


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