TOKYO (Reuters) - The Bank of Japan is set to keep monetary settings unchanged on Friday and reassure markets it will lag way behind the Federal Reserve in dialing back its massive stimulus program, with inflation stubbornly low despite a strengthening economy.
Governor Haruhiko Kuroda will also dispel market speculation the BOJ is engaging in “stealth tapering” by stressing that the recent slowdown in the bank’s bond buying is not intentional and simply the result of a stable bond market, say sources familiar with its thinking.
“The slowdown came as a result of our policy of guiding yields at appropriate levels,” BOJ Executive Director Masayoshi Amamiya told parliament on Tuesday, a view seen representing the bank’s official line on policy.
At the two-day rate review ending on Friday, the BOJ is likely to maintain a pledge to guide short-term interest rates at minus 0.1 percent and the 10-year government bond yield around zero percent under its yield curve control (YCC) policy.
Market players are seen focusing on Kuroda’s post-meeting briefing at 3:30 p.m. (0630 GMT) for any new insights into what might trigger a future hike in the BOJ’s bond yield target.
Growing signs of life in Japan’s economy have presented a fresh communication challenge for the BOJ, pushing it to be clearer with markets on how it might withdraw its stimulus - without sounding as if such an action is imminent.
Kuroda has rebuffed calls from some lawmakers and academics to disclose details on how the bank may exit its ultra-loose policy, arguing that such debate was premature with inflation distant from its 2 percent target.
But BOJ policymakers see an increasing need to enhance their communication on a future exit strategy given growing calls for more disclosure.
“The BOJ shouldn’t be afraid of revising (its exit strategy) in the future and openly debate the subject now, paying heed to market voices,” Akio Negishi, head of Japan’s life insurance lobby, said on Friday.
A Reuters poll showed economists were divided on whether the BOJ could communicate its exit strategy without causing market turmoil.
Jonathan Xiong, head of the Fixed Income Alternatives Group at Goldman Sachs Asset Management, expects YCC to stay for a long period of time as the BOJ has little choice but to act as a backstop when financial markets become volatile.
“They are stuck between a rock and a hard place because they can’t let (YCC) go, but it’s not really having an impact,” Xiong said.
“At some point in time, that’s going to be challenged - the efficacy of the policy, what impact it is having on the underlying fundamentals,” he said, questioning whether the YCC effect was worth the cost of maintaining a huge balance sheet.
After four years of heavy asset buying failed to accelerate inflation, the BOJ revamped its policy framework to one controlling the yield curve from that targeting the pace of money printing.
But it maintained a loose pledge to increase its bond holdings at an annual pace of 80 trillion yen ($727 billion) year to appease proponents of heavy money printing on the board.
While the BOJ argues it still has plenty of bonds to buy, many analysts expect its bond-buying program to reach a limit with the bank already owning more than 42 percent of the market.
Indeed, recent data showed the BOJ’s bond buying has slowed considerably in recent months. Analysts expect the BOJ to slow the pace further to around 60 trillion yen by year-end and to omit the 80-trillion-yen pledge from its policy statement.
For a graphic on central bank balance sheets, click here
Additional reporting by Vidya Ranganathan; Editing by Eric Meijer