by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Jan 21, 2013
The Bank of Japan on Monday began its first policy meeting since the new premier took office with a pledge to pressure it into aggressive monetary easing to revive the long-suffering economy.
The two-day meeting is widely expected to see the central bank launch another round of easing, and bow to government demands that it set a two-percent inflation target in a bid to vanquish the deflation that has haunted the world's third largest economy for years.
If the BoJ inflates its 101 trillion yen ($1.13 trillion) asset-buying programme it will mark the first time in nearly a decade that the bank has expanded monetary policy after two consecutive policy meetings.
It would also be the BoJ's fourth major move since September after its counterparts in Europe and the US ushered in huge measures to battle slowing growth.
The programme is the BoJ's main policy tool with interest rates at near zero, but analysts are not convinced another expansion will be enough for Japan's new leader.
Daisuke Karakama, senior market economist at Mizuho Corporate Bank, said an expected 10 trillion yen boost to the programme, after an expansion of the same amount in December, "would be just an extension of what the BoJ has been doing and might not be enough to satisfy Prime Minister Abe".
National Australia Bank said the expected move would "underwhelm and probably send the (yen) higher".
Tensions have risen between BoJ policymakers and the administration of Shinzo Abe, whose Liberal Democratic Party swept national elections last month, as the hawkish leader piled on the pressure for more action from the bank.
The 58-year-old premier has openly said he would like to turf out BoJ Governor Masaaki Shirakawa, whose terms ends in April, and threatened to change a law mandating the bank's independence if it doesn't fall into line.
Japan's new finance minister, Taro Aso, has also weighed in, accusing the bank last month of being "slow in its response to deflation".
"Let's stop the mindset that 'We didn't make mistakes'... we have to take measures seriously to end deflation," he was quoted as saying in his inaugural address to finance ministry officials.
Aso, the BoJ's chief and economic revitalisation minister Akira Amari were reportedly to hold a rare joint press briefing on Tuesday.
Japan has been beset by deflation since the 1990s. It continues to hurt the economy as falling prices cut into corporate profits, leading firms to slash jobs and put off growth-generating capital investment.
It also dents demand because it encourages consumers to delay purchases in the hope of paying less later.
As part of an economic offensive, Tokyo has also unveiled a $226.5 billion stimulus plan with spending aimed at job creation, rebuilding areas hit by the 2011 quake-tsunami disaster and strengthening the military.
So-called "Abenomics" has drawn mixed reactions from economists and likely left the BoJ's board bristling.
But markets cheered, with Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei 225 index soaring in the past couple of months as investors bet the new government will make real progress on breathing life into the limp economy.
Abe's moves have also weighed on the yen which has been in steep decline on easing expectations, although it was slightly stronger Monday with the dollar at 89.55 yen and the euro buying 119.25 yen in afternoon trade.
The safe-haven Japanese currency hit record highs around 75 to the dollar in late 2011, hurting exporters who were already trying to recover from the twin disasters and a global slowdown.
The bank's meeting in December had been widely seen as a test of its resilience to outside pressure.
"Even though the BoJ should be independent from politics, it cannot ignore political pressure completely," Keiji Kanda, economist at Daiwa Institute of Research, said at the time.
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