Category: Fundamental Analysis, Intermediate, Currencies, economic cycles, Monetary Policy, Economy, Macroeconomics, Central Banks.
Key Words: Central Banks, Monetary Policy, Bank of Japan.
Tags: Macroeconomy, BoJ, Monetary policy, 2017.
At the January 2016 meeting, the Central Bank of Japan introduced negative interest rates, setting the reference rate at 0.1%. This negative rate meant that the central bank would charge commercial banks for some reserves deposited in Japan’s central financial institution. The measure was designed to encourage commercial banks to use their reserves to increase the supply of loans to consumers and investors in Japan, to reactivate the economy and overcome the deflation that the country was experiencing at that time.
This negative rate would not apply directly to the accounts that customers had with commercial banks so as not to affect the purchasing power of individuals or companies. It was not a measure taken impulsively since the Bank of Japan had been analysing what measures could boost the behaviour of inflation for several years.
The decision was made by the board of the bank in a split decision of 5 votes in favour of the measure, against four votes who did not agree to establish negative rates. In addition, the report issued summarising the meeting, stipulated that if it was necessary to delve into the negative rates territory, this measure would be only be implemented until the bank achieved its 2% goal.
This measure of establishing negative rates has not been common for the central banks of the world’s leading economies since there is no consensus on the possible effects of negative rates. A problem that had lasted for quite some time in Japan was the decline in the prices of goods and services so that consumers restricted their spending due to their expectations of prices in the future.
At the press conference, the governor of the Bank of Japan, Haruhiko Kuroda indicated that deflation coupled with a global economic slowdown led to an unprecedented policy for Japan. For many analysts, the decision to adopt negative rates was surprising, and it was not known how much this could influence the short and medium-term inflation rate.
The consensus for many analysts was that the Japanese economy did not grow at higher rates as well as inflation, not because of low supply of credits but because companies had pessimistic expectations about the future of the economy, so they preferred to postpone their investment decisions. Therefore, they hoped that the outlook would not change even with negative interest rates.
Specifically, the bank adopted a three-tier system in which the balance that commercial banks held in the central bank would be divided into three levels:
- Balances with a positive interest rate
- Balances with zero interest rate
- Balances with a negative interest rate
This multi-level system in the balances was intended to prevent an excessive decrease in the income of financial institutions derived from the implementation of negative interest rates.
As for the guidelines for money market operations, the bank decided in a vote of 8 to 1 in favour of conducting operations in the open market until the monetary base was increased annually by 80 trillion yen. The bank decided to make purchases of Japanese Government Bonds (JGB) so that the amount in circulation would increase its annual rate of around 80 trillion yen.
By early 2017, the bank confirmed that the interest rate in the short term would remain at -0.1% and for the long term it would be 0%, so the bank decided to continue buying Japanese Government Bonds to maintain the yields of the bonds at 0%. World economic growth was moderate, but the negative performance was for the emerging economies which remained lagging behind the growth of the developed economies.
The bank especially highlighted the US economy, which showed great strength in almost all its variables, ranging from household spending to exports to the labour market. Inflation was perhaps the only variable that had not shown the strength of other economic variables but was close to the objective of the FED of 2%.
Japanese exports improved, mainly by the automotive sector. Private consumption was expected to have a positive performance in 2017 due to a good performance of the labour market, and effects on wealth, given the growth of the stock index in Japan and the main economies of the world. Real estate investment also showed positive signs since the end of 2016.
Given these positive signs, the bank expected a moderate expansion of the economy in 2017 given a rise in domestic demand for goods and services, in addition to better global growth and the depreciation of the yen, which would continue to boost exports.
The committee recognised that there was a lack of strength for the inflation rate to be at 2%, so it was important for the bank to continue with its guidelines and its operations in the market in order to continue channeling inflation towards the objective set by the bank’s mandates. The committee cleared doubts about its increase in long-term rates given the rate hike that the FED carried out, being very clear that its monetary policy decisions would only be based on local inflation conditions and not on decisions of other central banks.
At the mid-year meeting in 2017, the bank decided to keep the negative interest rate of -0.1% in a vote of 7 to 2. In order to maintain the long-term interest rate at 0%, the bank decided to buy JGB at the same rate as it had already done by increasing its holdings by 80 trillion yen.
By mid-2017 the Japanese economy had returned to a moderate expansion, with a slight increase in exports as well as fixed investment in businesses. Private consumption still did not show positive signs despite a better outlook in the labour market with wages rising slightly. In terms of the consumer price index, its annual measurement was close to 0%, so the bank was far from its annual growth goal, but expectations were positive because they expected an upward trend of this indicator.
The bank said it would continue with the Quantitative and Qualitative Monetary Easing (QQE) program until inflation rises above 2% in a stable manner that would allow for a path of economic growth that is larger than expected until mid-2017.
At in the October 2017 meeting, the bank committee decided with a vote of 8 to 1 to keep the short-term interest rate at -0.1%. For the long-term interest rate, the Bank of Japan continued acquiring JGBs to keep the interest rate at 0% for the long term. In the reports, it was indicated that the vote was not unanimous because a member of the board needed more encouragement from the bank to reach the goal of 2% as soon as possible.
In the meeting held in October 2017, the bank continued with its monetary policy of negative interest rate established at -0.1%. Yields on 10-year Japanese government bonds were still zero given the intervention of the central bank. The Nikkei 225 index rose considerably during 2017 given high expectations in the corporate results of Japanese companies.
As for the yen, it depreciated against the dollar during the year due to the interest rate differential between both central banks. Regarding its parity with the euro, it did not fluctuate significantly during the year.
As in the January report, the performance of the global economy remained positive, especially in the United States, which maintained a robust growth rate with good employment rates and good dynamics in its domestic markets.
In Japan, the economy grew at moderate rates with good dynamics in the export sector that was positively boosted by world growth. Fixed investment in businesses showed signs of moderate growth mainly due to an improvement in corporate revenues, better financial conditions and a better expectation of economic growth in the following quarters.
The unemployment rate has remained at low levels between 2.5% and 3%, which has encouraged greater private and household spending. The behaviour of real estate at the end of 2017 showed flat signs and the industry showed a growing trend. Regarding inflation, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the main goods minus food showed figures between 0.5% and 1%, as shown in the following graph.
Graph 76.CPI Inflation Japan 2017.Retrieved 26th February 2017, from http://www.inflation.eu/inflation-rates/japan/historic-inflation/cpi-inflation-japan-2017.aspx
Although it is still not close to 2%, the behaviour of inflation has improved, and the bank’s expectations were that in the medium and long-term, inflation would be located at the bank’s target rate. It was clear to all board members that the engine of year-round growth was exports that benefited from a better global juncture.
If you compare the projections that the bank had in July and November, the projected inflation rate of prices decreased in November and was due to more pessimistic expectations about price growth and a reduction in mobile telephony, but the medium and long-term rates remained without modifications. For some members, there was still a long way to reach the goal of 2% due to an excess supply of capital and a labour market that still needed to be narrower, so that wage increases would be stronger.
In conclusion, given the behaviour of the economy during 2017, the committee determined that the economy needed monitoring continuously to achieve its goals in the coming years. The objective of inflation was met, but the board was satisfied with the macroeconomic development of Japan. For most of the members, it was clear that the monetary easing program should continue to support the different measures of inflation so that the expectations of businesses and households would change and spend more, boosting wages and prices.
There was also the concern that other banks were ending their monetary easing programs and in some cases, interest rates were rising, so this could put pressure on the yen’s exchange against other currencies. The monetary relaxation program had begun later in Japan, so the normalisation of its monetary policy could also take longer. Given these statements, it was easy to understand why the executive board still did not change the negative interest rates and its purchase of Japanese government bonds.