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December 21, 2016

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BOJ raises view of economy in over a year

THE Bank of Japan yesterday lifted its view of the economy for the first time in over a year, as the sliding yen boosts exports, offering some hope for Tokyo’s stuttering growth program.

Policy-makers held fire on further stimulus and said they would maintain a plan to keep the yield on government 10-year bonds around zero, part of a broader bid to stimulate growth in the world’s No. 3 economy.

The bank’s final meeting of 2016 came on the heels of stronger-than-expected November export data and the first rise for more than a year in its closely watched Tankan survey of business confidence.

“The drop in the yen has given the bank some flexibility,” said Toshihiko Sakai, a senior dealer at Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking. “It’s taken pressure off the BOJ to ease more.”

BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said things were looking brighter as exports and factory output gather steam — the bank said they were “sluggish” in a November statement.

That was its first upgrade to its view on the economy since May 2015.

The negative impact of a slowdown in emerging economies and Britain’s vote to exit the European Union were fading, Kuroda said. “There were headwinds in the first half of the year, but they’ve now disappeared.”

Japan has been on an unsure recovery path and the central bank remains way behind reaching a 2 percent inflation target that is a cornerstone of government efforts to revive the economy.

There are also questions about whether the BOJ can keep buying government bonds at the current pace without shocking debt markets.

Kuroda yesterday brushed aside talk about tapering the BOJ’s massive 80 trillion yen (US$679 billion) annual asset-purchase scheme and suggested there was no limit to what measures the BOJ can take.

“We have to press on with strong monetary easing to reach the inflation target as early as possible,” he said.

“I do not subscribe to the view that policies face limits, like walls standing in the way.”

The yen has tumbled against the greenback since Donald Trump’s shock US presidential election win in November fanned speculation that president-elect’s plans for big government spending and tax cuts will force the Federal Reserve to hike borrowing costs.

The Fed’s signal last week that it could lift them three times next year sent the dollar surging against the Japanese unit.

That is good news for Japan’s exporters as a weak yen boosts their competitiveness and profitability.

Kuroda said the yen’s level against the dollar was “not surprising,” noting it brought the rate back to where it was earlier this year, before Brexit.

Investors tend to buy the yen to shield themselves in times of turmoil.

The BOJ’s upbeat tone comes as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s big-spending, easy-money plan to kick-start growth falters.


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