Japan central bank turns activist investor to revive economy

Sun Jan 3, 2016 4:09pm EST
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By Tomo Uetake

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's central bank, which dominates the domestic bond market, has begun to call the shots in the equity market as well -- to the point where asset managers are looking to design investment funds with the Bank of Japan in mind.

The bank has blazed a trail in global central banking by becoming something of an activist investor in pursuit of economic revival, using its influence as a mainly indirect owner of shares to support firms that spend more cash at home.

The bank, which owns about $54 billion in exchange-traded funds (ETFs), is ramping up its purchases but has yet to give any detailed investment criteria, beyond a preference for firms with growing capital expenditure and investment in its staff.

"We're willing and considering to add such a product," said Kohei Sasaki, manager of ETF promotion at Mitsubishi UFJ Kokusai Asset Management.

"We've already contacted index vendors on this matter."

Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have been calling on companies to raise capital expenditure and wages to spur the economy, after repeated monetary and fiscal stimulus over the past three years failed to lift it out of a funk of weak consumption and deflation.

So far, their pleas have failed to prod companies into action, despite many of them making record profits on the back of the central bank's zero interest rates and a weak yen.

Losing patience, Kuroda said last month the bank would buy 300 billion yen ($2.5 billion) a year of ETFs, in addition to 3 trillion yen it already assigns each year to ETFs. It said the extra purchases would target funds whose underlying firms were "proactively making investment in physical and human capital".   Continued...

A man walks past the Bank of Japan (BOJ) building in Tokyo, in this October 30, 2015 file photo.     REUTERS/Thomas Peter