Published: May 22, 2013
TOKYO — The Bank of Japan stood pat on monetary policy Wednesday amid market jitters over volatility in bond markets, which has threatened to undermine the country’s battle to end deflation and stimulate growth in the giant economy.
In a unanimous vote, the bank’s board stuck to its strategy of expanding the monetary base at an annual pace of 60 trillion yen to 70 trillion yen, or $585 billion to $682 billion, through purchases of government bonds, commercial debt and other assets. Those moves pump money into the economy.
After the central bank’s meeting last month, it unleashed what analysts have dubbed a “shock-and-awe” monetary policy, a sea change for a bank that had come to be known in recent years for its caution and conservatism.
Under its new governor, Haruhiko Kuroda, the Bank of Japan has gone all-out to fight deflation. Declaring he would do “whatever it takes” to combat falling prices, Mr. Kuroda last month announced that the bank would seek to double Japan’s monetary base, as well as the bank’s holdings of Japanese government bonds, by the end of 2014. The aim of such a policy is to keep interest rates low, prompting consumers to spend and businesses to invest in growth and jobs.
In recent days, however, worries have grown about rising interest rates in the government bond market, which could threaten Japan’s monetary policy. Japan is vulnerable to rising borrowing costs because of its high public debt, which is twice the size of its economy. Bonds are also the main financial asset held by banks, pension funds and insurance companies, making a surge in debt yields perilous. The biggest concern for the central bank is volatility in the bond market, where yields are still above levels marked before its meeting last month, Cameron Umetsu, a strategist at UBS, said in a note published ahead of the decision Wednesday.
“This can be viewed as one of the ‘unintended effects,’ which, if sustained, could dilute the effectiveness of the new quantitative and qualitative easing framework,” he said.
The scale of Japan’s quantitative easing is striking. Assuming that the Japanese economy grows by 2 percent a year, the Bank of Japan would expand its assets to just under 60 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, according to estimates from CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets. The U.S. Federal Reserve’s assets, which now total about 20 percent of the American economy, and the European Central Bank’s assets, which come to about 28 percent of the euro zone’s G.D.P., pale in comparison.
Japan stands out in another important way. Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office in December and has been the main champion of the bank’s new audacity, Japan is coupling its monetary push with heavy government spending, contrary to calls for austerity in the United States and Europe.