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BOJ debated monetary, fiscal policy mix as cost of ultra-low rates rises - Metro US

BOJ debated monetary, fiscal policy mix as cost of ultra-low rates rises

FILE PHOTO : A security guard walks past in front of the Bank of Japan headquarters in Tokyo, Japan January 23, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato
By Leika Kihara

By Leika Kihara

TOKYO (Reuters) – A few Bank of Japan board members said the central bank must work carefully with the government in dealing with the next economic downturn, minutes of the BOJ’s October rate review showed on Tuesday.

The nine-member board also debated the demerits of prolonged monetary easing, with one warning that life insurers could struggle to meet provisions guaranteed to policy holders if current ultra-low interest rates persist, the minutes showed.

The deliberations highlight the growing view within the BOJ that fiscal policy may need to play a bigger role in battling risks to the economy, given the rising cost and diminishing return of monetary easing.

“The BOJ should prepare for the next economic downturn as among risk scenarios. In doing so, it’s important not only to take monetary policy action but enhance cooperation with the government” such as through fiscal policy, the minutes quoted a few board members as saying at the October meeting.

At the Oct. 30-31 rate review, the BOJ kept policy steady but gave the strongest signal to date that it may cut interest rates in the near future, underscoring its concern that overseas risks could derail a fragile economic recovery.

It kept monetary settings unchanged at a subsequent meeting in December, as a preliminary truce in U.S.-China trade talks took some pressure off the BOJ to deploy immediate stimulus.

As the BOJ’s massive money printing keeps borrowing costs low, the government compiled a $122 billion fiscal package on Dec. 5 to pre-empt the risk of another recession.

Years of aggressive asset buying have failed to fire up inflation to the BOJ’s 2% target, forcing it to maintain a massive stimulus despite the hit inflicted on financial institutions’ profits from prolonged ultra-low rates.

The nine-member board is split between those who see room to ramp up stimulus to fire up inflation, and those who are more concerned about the demerits of the BOJ’s ultra-easy policy.

“While financial institutions’ soundness was ensured for the moment, the cumulative side effects of prolonged low interest rates warranted vigilance,” a few board members were quoted as saying at the October rate review.

“If long-term yields remained at around current levels for a long period, life insurers could face difficulty in maintaining the provision of insurance products … and might not fulfill their social responsibility,” one member said.

The BOJ does not release the identities of the board members that made the comments in the minutes.

(Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Christopher Cushing)

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