TOKYO (Reuters) - Despite strength in Japan’s economy, most analysts predict the central bank will keep a key part of its super-easy monetary policy — the long-term bond yield target — at zero percent throughout the year, a Reuters poll showed on Friday.
More than half the economists also said 110-114 yen to the dollar was the optimal exchange rate for Japan’s export-dependent economy. Recently, the yen has strengthened sharply to around 105.50 yen, hurting exporters’ profits.
Persistently subdued inflation and concerns about the yen’s appreciation will make it hard for policymakers to scale back the radical stimulus measures implemented under Governor Haruhiko Kuroda in a bid to lift Japan out of decades of deflation.
The government has nominated Kuroda for another five-year term and chose an advocate of bolder monetary easing as one of his deputies, signalling that authorities are in no rush to drop its strategy, which also aimed to keep the 10-year bond yield JP10YT=RR at around zero percent.
Japan’s economy is in its best shape in years. Consumer spending, capital investment and exports are all growing nicely, but inflation remains around 1 percent and well below the central bank’s 2 percent target.
Late last year, the BOJ dropped subtle hints that it might edge away from its crisis-mode stimulus in coming months amid improving signs in the economy. But such speculation has cooled, and 22 out of 34 economists polled between Feb. 16-22 said the bank would maintain its zero percent target rate during 2018.
“The BOJ will probably shelve the idea of tweaking its yield-curve control policy,” and won’t take action until next year, said Izuru Kato, chief economist at Totan Research.
To pump more money into the financial system and spur inflation, the BOJ has been buying government bonds and exchange traded funds, or ETFs. But critics say that has dried up bond market liquidity and caused distortions in the stock market.
The BOJ has been slowing its bond purchases recently, which traders have described as ‘stealth tapering’, and financial markets appear to be taking it in stride.
Still, 28 of 36 economists expect the BOJ won’t change the pace of ETF buying of about 6 trillion yen. Only eight project the central bank will cut the amount, but that it wouldn’t happen until sometime later this year or afterwards.
Asked what is the best dollar-yen rate for the Japanese economy as a whole now, 20 of 34 economists selected a range between 110 and 114 yen. Eight chose 105-109 yen, three said 115-119 yen and another three said 120 yen or above.
The latest monthly Reuters poll of foreign exchange dealers has median forecasts in the ideal range identified by economists on each of the one, three, six and 12-month horizons. [reuters://realtime/verb=Open/url=cpurl://apps.cp./Apps/fx-polls?RIC=JPY=].
The yen’s recent ascent to 15-month highs has drawn warnings from Japan’s policymakers.
While that could dent corporate profits, the exchange rate “is not the level which companies cannot handle considering strong external demand,” said Harumi Taguchi, principal economist at IHS Markit.
As for Japan’s economy, market watchers forecast it will expand 1.7 percent in the fiscal year ending next month, with the pace seen slowing to 1.2 percent next fiscal year.
That’s down slightly from projections of 1.8 percent and 1.3 percent made in January.
Japan’s core consumer price index, which includes oil products but excludes fresh food prices, will rise 0.7 percent this fiscal year and 0.9 percent next fiscal year, the poll showed, unchanged from last month.
Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Polling by Shaloo Shrivastava and Khushboo Mittal; Editing by Malcolm Foster, Ross Finley and Kim Coghill