December 2, 2008 / 6:32 AM / 11 years ago

Bank of Japan expands collateral to ease cash crunch

TOKYO (Reuters) - The Bank of Japan said on Tuesday it would expand lending by about 3 trillion yen ($32 billion) to help companies tide over a year-end credit squeeze and accept lower rated corporate bonds as collateral for loans.

The central bank, which kept rates steady at 0.3 percent at an emergency meeting, said it plans to accept triple B-rated corporate bonds as collateral would make it easier for banks, scarred by the global financial crisis, to lend to companies.

Like the U.S. Federal Reserve and other major central banks the BOJ is reviving bank lending again after a year of bank failures in Europe and the United States. Governor Masaaki Shirakawa said the BOJ hoped to lend around 3 trillion yen under its new scheme.

“These measures alone cannot determine the shape of the economy but they will have an effect in improving corporate finance, which has been worsening,” BOJ Governor Masaaki Shirakawa told reporters.

“The severity of financing conditions for small to mid-sized firms is higher than that of big companies. But financing at big companies is becoming more severe as conditions for funding via markets with corporate bonds and commercial paper are deteriorating.”

Japanese firms have been caught by both falling demand for their goods, as Europe and the United States slide into recession and growth slows in Asia, and a funding squeeze as banks and investors shun risk and hoard cash.

The Japanese money markets, once shielded from the global crisis, have been rocked in recent months by investors’ fear of a global economic recession.

The average rate of new three-month commercial paper jumped to 1.18 percent in October from 0.76 percent in August. The issuance of corporate bonds stopped for almost a month before mid-November and many companies are still having a hard time finding lenders.

While Shirakawa acknowledged a sharp deterioration in credit conditions, the BOJ stayed away from measures as dramatic as those implemented by the Fed, such as buying commercial paper outright.

The Fed already pumps money directly into specific markets, such as those that commercial paper, short-term debt companies use to finance day-to-day operations, and its chairman has signaled more steps could come.

The BOJ will launch a new scheme in January under which it will lend unlimited funds to financial institutions at the overnight call rate with corporate debt as collateral.

Until now the BOJ has only accepted corporate debt rated single A or higher as collateral. From December 9 it would start lending against triple B-rated bonds.

That would enable the BOJ to commit a total of 5.5 trillion yen ($59 billion) to the new funding scheme.

“Technically, the new lending facility should be taken as a back-up tool, as this instrument itself is not capable of channeling funds directly to non-financial firms but can relieve the burden of balance sheet problems at banks only temporarily,” said Yoshihiro Nozoe, senior economist at Okasan Securities.

“If the government and the BOJ want to prop up lending to firms facing funding difficulty, they should consider outright buying of commercial paper and straight bonds held by financial institutions, which is the only way of stripping off debts from balance sheet of financial institutions, transferring related risk to other entities and creating some room for new lending.”

Growing fear of a global recession has rocked financial markets around the world, with Japan’s Nikkei stock average sliding 6 percent on Tuesday after a fall on Wall Street on Monday.

Euroyen futures extended their gains, rising 5.5 basis points to 99.280 from 99.240 before the BOJ’s announcement.

SLIDING CONFIDENCE

The BOJ’s moves came after a Reuters poll showed manufacturers’ confidence falling at its sharpest on record, adding gloom to an economy already in recession and fuelling debate about further rate cuts.

The Reuters Tankan, a monthly poll of big Japanese firms that tracks the BOJ’s closely watched quarterly tankan next due on December 15, showed business confidence had fallen sharply to its lowest in seven years.

Shirakawa again played down any plans to cut interest rates, stressing he had little room to move.

“With regard to the possibility of a further cut in interest rates, we’ve said we should be aware that very low interest rates could harm the functioning of money markets,” he said.

($1=93.55 Yen)

Additional reporting by Shigeo Kodama, Tetsushi Kajimoto, Yuzo Saeki; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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