BOJ divided on stimulus tweaks as pandemic stokes deflation fears

TOKYO (Reuters) - Bank of Japan (BOJ) policymakers were divided on how far to go in tweaking its stimulus programme, with some calling for an overhaul of its strategy for achieving 2% inflation, a summary of views voiced at the December rate review showed.

FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protective mask walks past the headquarters of the Bank of Japan amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Tokyo, Japan, May 22, 2020.REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

The policy examination will focus on tweaking the BOJ’s purchases of exchange-traded funds (ETF) and operations for controlling the yield curve, according to the summary of the Dec. 17 to 18 meeting released on Monday.

BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has said the policy review will not lead to big changes to yield curve control (YCC) and instead focus on fine-tuning the framework to make it more sustainable.

But some BOJ board members called for a more ambitious review as the hit to growth from COVID-19 stokes fears of a return to deflation, the summary showed.

“The BOJ must conduct a renewed comprehensive assessment on what strategy it should take in achieving its price target,” one of the nine members said.

“To avoid a return to deflation, the BOJ should assess its strategy, tools, and communication for achieving its price goal,” another opinion quoted in the summary showed.

In December, the BOJ extended the deadline for steps to ease funding strains for firms hit by COVID-19. It also unveiled a plan to seek ways to make its policy more sustainable, as the pandemic pushes prices further away from the 2% goal.

Some members said the BOJ could make its ETF purchases more flexible, so it can sustain the programme for a prolonged period and ramp up buying if markets turn volatile, the summary showed.

Others saw room to tweak the YCC’s operations such as by seeking to control yields “more carefully” and allowing for a moderate steepening of the yield curve, it showed.

Under the YCC, the BOJ guides short-term interest rates at -0.1% and 10-year bond yields around zero through massive bond buying.

It also purchases huge amounts of ETFs and other risky assets, a policy that has drawn criticism from some investors for distorting pricing and drying up market liquidity.

Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Chris Gallagher and Christian Schmollinger