By Leika Kihara and Tetsushi Kajimoto
TOKYO (Reuters) - Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said the central bank won't end its ultra-loose monetary policy until its inflation target is met, seeking to dispel lingering market speculation it could dial back stimulus earlier than expected.
But Kuroda said the BOJ has the necessary tools to engineer a smooth exit from crisis-mode policy and was already brainstorming how a future stimulus exit could affect its balance sheet.
"Underlying price moves remain weak, so our feeling is that there is some distance to achieving our price target," Kuroda told an upper house confirmation hearing on Tuesday.
"It's unthinkable to end or weaken the degree of monetary easing before our inflation target is met," he said.
Kuroda rattled markets last week by flagging for the first time the prospect of an exit from easy policy if his inflation target was met, sending the yen higher and bond prices lower.
Under the current forecast, the BOJ's nine-member board projects inflation to reach 2 percent during the fiscal year ending in March 2020. Many analysts see the estimate as too ambitious in a country barely emerging from deflation.
Kuroda on Tuesday said while wages and inflation were ticking up, there was uncertainty on whether the BOJ's projection would be met.
He also said there was no limit to what the BOJ could do to achieve its price goal, countering the view held by some analysts that it is running out of ammunition to stimulate growth.
"We will continue to take whatever necessary steps to achieve our price target," Kuroda added.
Japan's economy has been recovering steadily thanks to robust global demand that has propped up corporate profits. But core inflation stood at 0.9 percent in January, well below the BOJ's target, as companies hold off on raising prices for fear of scaring away cost-sensitive consumers.
Kuroda appeared before the upper house of parliament for confirmation hearings after the government reappointed him to serve another five-year term when the current one ends in April.
It is a near certainty parliament will approve the government's nomination because premier Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition holds a majority in both houses of parliament.
Years of heavy money printing to reflate growth have hurt already thin margins of Japan's financial institutions, drawing calls from lawmakers for the BOJ to be more mindful of the cost of prolonged monetary easing.
Kuroda said he did not see any serious threats to Japan's banking system. But he said the central bank would "obviously" debate an exit strategy from ultra-loose policy when its price target is met.
"There are various means to exit," such as mopping up liquidity via market operations and raising the interest the BOJ pays to excess reserves financial institutions park at the central bank, Kuroda said.
The BOJ was also brainstorming how a future exit could affect its balance sheet, though how and through what means it would withdraw stimulus would depend on economic and price conditions at the time, he said.
(Reporting by Leika Kihara and Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Chris Gallagher and Sam Holmes)