Helicopter money talk takes flight as Bank of Japan runs out of runway

Sat Jul 30, 2016 9:06pm EDT
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By Stanley White

TOKYO (Reuters) - The Bank of Japan's review of its monetary stimulus program promised for September has revived expectations it could adopt some form of "helicopter money", printing money for government spending to spur inflation.

The BOJ disappointed market hopes on Friday that it might increase its heavy buying of government debt or lower already negative interest rates, cementing the view that it is running out of options within its existing policy framework to lift prices and end two decades of deflationary pressure.

With little to show for three years of massive monetary easing, economists say BOJ governor Haruhiko Kuroda's "comprehensive assessment" of policy could push it into closer cooperation with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who announced a fiscal spending package worth more than 28 trillion yen ($275 billion) on Wednesday in a bid to kickstart growth.

"The comprehensive review might be the first step toward further collaboration with the government, hinting at helicopter money," said Daiju Aoki, economist at UBS Securities.

"The government could issue 50-year bonds, and if the BOJ makes a commitment to hold them for a very long time, that would be like helicopter money."

The helicopter money metaphor for the aggressive printing of new money was first used by American economist Milton Friedman in 1969 and cited by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke in 2002 as a scheme that could fight deflation.

Some economists, however, fear it could trigger hyperinflation and uncontrollable currency devaluation.

Speculation that Japan might take that path reached fever pitch earlier in July when Bernanke met Abe and Kuroda in Tokyo, though policymakers quickly tried to damp down such talk.   Continued...

Bank of Japan (BOJ) Governor Haruhiko Kuroda attends a news conference at the BOJ headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, July 29, 2016. Picture taken July 29, 2016.  REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon