UPDATE 1-Foreigners make record weekly Japanese bond buys after BOJ maintains policy

(Adds graphics, data on foreign flows in equities and Japanese investment flows outside)

TOKYO, March 24 (Reuters) - Foreign investors made a record weekly purchase of Japanese government bonds last week, after the Bank of Japan (BOJ) maintained its ultra loose policy.

Data from Japan’s Ministry of Finance showed that foreign investors bought a net 4.096 trillion yen ($31.44 billion) worth of Japanese government bonds (JGB) with maturities of more than one year in the week ended March 18 - the largest amount since the ministry began publishing data in 2005. Investors also bought safe-haven debt amid worries about a possible banking crisis after a failure of U.S. Silicon Valley Bank and Swiss lender Credit Suisse’s liquidity issues.

The BOJ maintained ultra-low interest rates and held off from making changes to its controversial bond yield control policy at its monetary policy meeting on March 10, defying some expectations of a policy tweak. JGB yields began falling sharply after the BOJ’s decision, and extended the declines as Silicon Valley Bank’s meltdown and Credit Suisse’s woes drove a flight to safe-haven debt.

Japan’s benchmark 10-year JGB yield, which was hovering at 0.5%, the top end of the BOJ’s policy band, before the BOJ’s policy meeting, fell to as low as 0.240% on March 14.

The BOJ meeting was the last one chaired by current Governor Haruhiko Kuroda before a change in the leadership. Kuroda’s second, five-year term ends on April 8. With inflation exceeding the BOJ’s target, incoming governor Kazuo Ueda faces the challenge of phasing out the bank’s controversial bond yield control policy.

“The record amount of JGB buying underscores investors’ bet on the policy change,” said Kazuhiko Sano, a strategist at Tokai Tokyo Securities.

“They needed to rush to buy back JGBs to cover their short positions.”

Meanwhile, foreigners withdrew a net 2.38 trillion yen out of Japanese equities, marking their biggest weekly net selling since at least 2018, data from Japanese exchanges shows.

Japanese investors on the other hand purchased a net 3.34 billion yen worth of long-term overseas bonds, the most since March 2020. They also accumulated 118.2 billion yen worth of foreign equities.

($1 = 130.3000 yen)

Reporting by Junko Fujita in Tokyo and Gaurav Dogra in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich and Nivedita Bhattacharjee