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BOJ delays bond buying cut, Yen weakens

BOJ delays bond buying cut, Yen weakens

The Bank of Japan (BOJ) has chosen to delay providing specific details about its plans to reduce bond buying until its meeting in July. This decision has resulted in renewed weakness in the yen and has caused investors to push back their expectations for an interest rate hike in the upcoming month. Investors were caught off guard by the BOJ’s announcement on Friday. The central bank indicated it would reduce its debt purchases but did not provide specific figures or a timeline.

This lack of detail is viewed as a postponement in the normalization of monetary policy, causing more than half of the economists surveyed by Bloomberg to adjust their forecasts. They had anticipated that the BOJ would start reducing its bond purchases, and the delay has led to a significant reevaluation of market expectations.

The announcement included maintaining the benchmark interest rate within a range of 0% to 0.1%, which aligned with general expectations among economists and market participants. This steady rate suggests that the BOJ is adopting a wait-and-see approach, gauging the impact of its previous monetary policies before making more significant adjustments. Following the announcement, the yen fell to its lowest level against the dollar since April. This decline was accompanied by a rise in benchmark 10-year Japanese government bonds, which resulted in lower yields.

The pricing in the swaps market indicated that traders were adjusting their bets for a rate hike next month. In contrast, Japanese stocks increased, even as other Asian markets experienced declines. This mixed market reaction highlights the complexity of investor sentiment, balancing between cautious optimism about domestic equities and concerns over currency depreciation.

Governor Kazuo Ueda has consistently demonstrated a commitment to gradually normalizing monetary policy after more than a decade of significant stimulus measures. However, the delay in specifying changes to bond purchases suggests ongoing caution among the BOJ board members. Ueda's cautious approach reflects a broader uncertainty within the BOJ about the timing and scale of withdrawing from its expansive monetary policies.

The recent decline in the yen is likely to cause concern among policymakers, recalling the currency's slide after the BOJ’s meeting in April. That decline led to Japan’s largest-ever foreign exchange intervention, signaling the severity of the situation and the lengths to which the BOJ might go to stabilize the currency.

Mari Iwashita, chief market economist at Daiwa Securities Co., noted, "The BOJ is being cautious and buying time. It’s unlikely the BOJ will raise interest rates in July when that now coincides with a decision to specify the bond-buying reductions." This perspective underscores the BOJ's strategy of gradualism, where careful, measured steps are preferred over abrupt changes that could unsettle the markets. Prior to the BOJ’s decision, about a third of economists had predicted a rate hike in July. However, ongoing concerns about the economy and the potential for significant yield fluctuations have likely delayed the timeline for the central bank’s next steps in normalizing policy, even if it means further weakening the yen.

Atsushi Takeda, chief economist at Itochu Research Institute, stated, "The BOJ is judging that it’s not time to let yields go up higher after they have risen rather quickly in the past few months. Their concerns over the economy are outweighing concerns over pushing down the yen. Ueda is making it clear that he doesn’t directly respond to foreign exchange rates with action." This statement highlights the delicate balancing act the BOJ faces between stabilizing economic growth and managing the yen's value.

Japan’s economy contracted at an annualized rate of 1.8% in the first quarter of the year. Both consumers and companies have reduced spending, and unsold inventories are accumulating, as decades-high inflation continues to affect real spending. This economic contraction adds another layer of complexity to the BOJ's decision-making process, as it must navigate between supporting growth and controlling inflation.

There is lingering doubt about the strength of the BOJ’s anticipated positive inflation cycle without clearer indications that the significant wage increases seen recently are translating into higher consumer spending. The BOJ's long-term goal of achieving stable, positive inflation hinges on robust consumer demand, which remains uncertain amid current economic conditions. Since ending its control over government debt yields in March, Ueda has stated that bond purchases are no longer a primary tool of monetary policy for the BOJ.

Nonetheless, a reduction from the current pace of around ¥6 trillion ($38 billion) per month would likely result in purchases falling short of the amount of maturing bonds each month. This would mark the beginning of a quantitative tightening process, signaling a withdrawal of economic support, which board members appear hesitant to initiate this month.

The Federal Reserve began its own quantitative tightening process two years ago and is now phasing it out to ensure sufficient liquidity in money markets. The BOJ’s decision on Friday came just days after Federal Reserve officials reduced their expectations for interest-rate cuts this year, which also impacted the yen. The Fed's cautious stance on rate cuts underscores the global nature of monetary policy, where actions by one central bank can have significant repercussions on others. Despite the BOJ's cautious approach, its statement included some encouragement for those favoring tighter policy.

The central bank indicated that it expects the underlying inflation trend to be “generally consistent with the price stability target” in the latter half of its three-year projection period. This suggests that despite current economic and market concerns, the BOJ is becoming more confident that it will meet its inflation target in the future, paving the way for potential interest rate hikes.

The BOJ’s extensive bond holdings mean it continues to have significant influence in the market. The bank owns more than half of Japan’s outstanding public debt, with its portfolio valued at approximately ¥593.7 trillion as of Monday, a value greater than the size of Japan’s economy. This dominant position allows the BOJ to wield considerable power over market dynamics, influencing everything from interest rates to investor sentiment.

According to Bloomberg Economics, the focus will now shift to any signals Governor Kazuo Ueda might give during his post-decision press conference later on Friday about the pace of bond purchase reductions. Ueda is also expected to prepare the market for a potential rate hike in July. These signals will be crucial for investors, who will be looking for clues about the BOJ's future policy direction.

The yen’s response to the BOJ’s decision was closely watched by observers. Ueda had been criticized for exacerbating the yen’s losses following the April policy board meeting. The yen has depreciated about 10% against the dollar so far this year, contributing to a decline of over 26% since the beginning of 2022, causing widespread concern in Japan. Many business leaders have urged the government to take measures to halt the currency’s decline. Consumer confidence fell to its lowest level since October in May, partly due to fears that the weak yen is driving inflation. This decline in consumer confidence reflects broader anxieties about economic stability and purchasing power.

Ueda is set to elaborate on the BOJ’s decision and the latest inflation outlook at a press conference at 3:30 p.m. on Friday. His remarks and any subsequent market movements will be closely scrutinized. Investors and analysts alike will be keenly listening for any hints about future policy moves and the BOJ's assessment of current economic conditions. Nicholas Smith, a strategist at CLSA Securities, remarked, "The yen’s weakening, so I guess we’ll see more intervention this month. It makes sense to buy Japanese assets now and profit when the BOJ does two hikes in the rest of the year and the Fed one cut, sending the yen stronger." This comment encapsulates the speculative nature of market strategies, where traders anticipate future policy shifts and position themselves accordingly.

The overall scenario portrays a central bank caught in a complex web of economic challenges and market expectations. The BOJ's cautious approach reflects a broader uncertainty within the institution about the timing and scale of withdrawing from its expansive monetary policies. As Japan navigates through economic contractions, inflationary pressures, and currency fluctuations, the decisions made by the BOJ in the coming months will be critical in shaping the country's financial landscape. The interplay between domestic policy decisions and global economic trends underscores the intricate nature of modern monetary policy, where central banks must balance multiple objectives while responding to rapidly changing conditions. Source: Bloomberg.

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