TOKYO (Reuters) – The Bank of Japan is likely to decide next week to extend a range of steps aimed at easing corporate funding strains as a resurgence of coronavirus infections cloud the economic outlook, sources familiar with its thinking said.
The measures, due to expire in March, will likely be extended for at least half a year as a precaution against the deepening pain from COVID-19, four sources said on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak publicly.
“With so much uncertainty over the outlook, it’s desirable for the BOJ to reach a decision on the extension as early as possible,” said one of the sources, a view echoed by three other sources.
Markets widely expect the BOJ to extend the schemes and have been focusing on how quickly the bank would reach the decision.
There is a slim chance a decision may be postponed until the BOJ’s rate review in January, if some in the board prefer to wait for more data on corporate funding strains, they said.
But central bank policymakers are leaning toward reaching a decision at next week’s meeting given heightening uncertainties over the outlook, they said.
New coronavirus infections in Japan reached 2,848 cases on Thursday, the most in a single day since the pandemic began.
The BOJ eased policy in March and April mostly by ramping up asset purchases and creating a new facility to funnel funds via financial institutions to cash-strapped firms hit by COVID-19.
The package of measures, which also includes increased purchases of corporate debt, was deployed as a temporary measure to deal with immediate funding strains from the pandemic.
The measures are likely to be extended without major tweaks, though some policymakers are open to expanding the size of money to be pumped out from the programmes if risks to the economy from the resurgence of infections heighten, the sources said.
At the two-day rate review ending on Dec. 18, the BOJ is seen maintaining its view the economy is picking up, and may offer a slightly more upbeat view than in October on exports and output, the sources said.
But the central bank is likely to reinforce its readiness to ramp up stimulus if looming risks from the pandemic threaten to derail a fragile economic recovery, they said.
Japan’s economy rebounded in July-September from its worst postwar contraction in the second quarter, though a third wave of infections is dampening prospects for a strong recovery.
The government on Tuesday announced a fresh $708 billion economic stimulus package to speed up the recovery, bringing the combined value of Japan’s pandemic-related spending to about $3 trillion.
(Reporting by Leika Kihara; Additional reporting by Takahiko Wada and Kentaro Sugiyama; Editing by Kim Coghill)