With the Fed contemplating whether to hike again next month and start “normalizing ” its balance sheet before the end of 2017, the two other major central banks are facing far bigger problems.
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Two months after the BOJ quietly started tapering its QE program, when it also hinted it may purchase 18% less bonds than planned…
… Governor Haruhiko Kuroda admitted last week that the Bank of Japan’s bond holdings are currently growing at an annualized pace of only ¥60 trillion ($527 billion), 25% below the bottom-end of its policy range, and confirming that without making any formal announcement, the BOJ has quietly followed the ECB in aggressively tapering its bond buying program.
Two weeks ago Bank of America caused a stir when it calculated that central banks (mostly the ECB & BoJ) have bought $1 trillion of financial assets just in the first four months of 2017, which amounts to $3.6 trillion annualized, “the largest CB buying on record.”
The number of listed Japanese companies declaring bankruptcy in the 2016 financial year fell to zero for the first time since the collapse of the bubble. The zero-bankruptcy feat, which has been achieved just six times since 1964 was last achieved in 1990.
Bankruptcies among listed companies have been consistently low since the Abenomics economic revival campaign got going in 2013 – the year the Bank of Japan began its qualitative and quantitative easing programme. In February last year, the central bank introduced its negative interest rate policy, underscoring the historically low debt servicing burden on Japanese companies.
Just two bankruptcies of listed companies were logged in fiscal 2015, according to Teikoku Databank. The all-time peak of 45 was reached in 2008 at the height of the global financial crisis.
According to Tokyo Shoko Research overall bankruptcies also fell in Japan in calendar 2016 – both in terms of the number of companies (a 4.6 per cent drop to 8446) and in terms of total value (a 5.0 per cent drop to Y2trn).
But analysts point out that those figures do not tell the full story as they track only companies that have undergone court-led liquidation.
Tokyo Shoko Research survey in August last year showed that in a year where around 8,500 companies went through court led bankruptcy, a total of about 27,000 either suspended or dissolved their businesses.
The euro climbed to its strongest level against the dollar since mid-February as the markets reassessed the odds of a December rate rise by the European Central Bank.
A day after mildly hawkish comments from European Central Bank president Mario Draghi helped send the single currency higher, the euro tacked on another 0.9 per cent to hit a three week high of $1.0673 following a report that the ECB had discussed whether rates could rise before it ends its bond buying programme.
However, two people familiar with the discussions denied there had been any meaningful debate over the issue. One person said some members are keen for the council to consider raising the deposit rate, now at minus 0.4 per cent, before it ends its quantitative easing programme.
The ECB plans to keep on buying bonds until the end of this year, and is considered likely to extend the programme into 2018 — though at a slower pace than the current level of €60bn a month.
Against the pound, the euro was up 1 per cent at €1.1393 – a level last seen in mid-January. The currency also firmed more than 1 per cent against the Japanese yen at 122.83.
The Bank of Japan is poised to upgrade its three-year economic growth outlook in the final days of January in light of strong recent indicators, though stronger inflation forecasts will be a harder sell.
The central bank will compile its quarterly outlook on economic activity and prices at a two-day policy meeting beginning Monday. The report will outline the BOJ’s forecast for each of the three years through fiscal 2018,
The last report, released in November, pegged gross-domestic product growth at 1% for fiscal 2016, 1.3% for fiscal 2017 and a slim 0.9% for fiscal 2018. Discussions this time are expected to center on the first two years, with the fiscal 2017 growth forecast thought to be headed for the mid-1% range.
Signs for an upgrade are strong. The BOJ in December boosted its outlook for Japan’s economy as a whole for the first time in 19 months. Such goods as smartphone parts and automobiles are driving up exports and industrial production, while consumer spending on durable goods such as cars is on the rebound as well. Changes made late last year to the GDP calculation method will also give the figure a boost: companies’ research and development spending, which has shown consistent growth over the years, now counts as investment.
BOJ Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda said at a World Economic Forum panel discussion Jan. 20 that he expects Japan’s economy to grow by around 1.5% in fiscal 2016 and fiscal 2017, significantly exceeding the country’s potential growth rate.
With the world facing uncertainty over the new administration in Washington, the Japanese central bank is among the many keeping their eyes peeled.
The yen’s depreciation against the dollar since Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election in November has given the Bank of Japan some much-needed breathing room, as a weaker home currency will likely buoy the economy and consumer prices here.
BOJ Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda welcomed the prospect of the yen softening on the back of a robust American economy, saying Trump’s planned tax cuts and infrastructure spending would lift the economies of the U.S. and the world.
The BOJ could watch from the sidelines without having to roll out more monetary easing — a particularly helpful development for a central bank nearly out of easing options.
“The specifics of economic policy under the Trump administration have not become clear,” according to BOJ Deputy Gov. Hiroshi Nakaso. But the bank apparently expects lower taxes and other anticipated economic measures to boost the economy.
The Bank of Japan may deliver a sunnier view of the country’s economy when its policy board meets next week, optimistic over steadying foreign economies boosting exports and production, as well as recovering consumption at home.
The central bank sees improvements in exports and production of automobiles and smartphone parts. It would mark the first upgrade in 19 months.
Since its March report, the BOJ has asserted that “Japan’s economy has continued its moderate recovery trend, although exports and production have been sluggish due mainly to the effects of the slowdown in emerging economies.” This time, it may alter or strike the “exports and production have been sluggish” language. Some at the bank have suggested removing the “trend” in “moderate recovery trend” to emphasize that the economy’s recovery is ongoing.
In addition to the bullish American economy, the deceleration in emerging economies has slowed since the summer. As the BOJ sees it, combined with the effect of the Trump rally in the stock market, the real economy is headed toward recovery. Exports to China such as smartphone components continue to grow, while at home, consumers are opening their wallets for fall-winter clothes.
“Income is increasingly going toward consumption,” said a BOJ official.
The Bank of Japan last week offered to buy bonds at a fixed yield to curb rising interest rates, playing what was seen as an ultimate trump card far earlier than many expected.
The BOJ announced its first-ever fixed-rate purchase operation on the morning of Nov. 17 to counter mounting fears of an upswing in interest rates. Yields on 10-year Japanese government bonds had climbed steadily since the U.S. presidential election, rising as high as 0.035% the day ahead of the move. The fixed-rated option was introduced only two months ago as part of a monetary policy overhaul in late September that set a target of around zero for long-term yields.
A call went out for two- and five-year JGBs to address the rapid surge in short- and medium-term bond yields, according to the BOJ’s Financial Markets Department. There were no takers: The offered yields were higher than going market rates, meaning the offered prices were lower, sending wise traders elsewhere. But the conditions of the operation sent a strong signal as to how high the central bank will let rates go before stepping in. Yields slid across all maturities after the move was announced.
Since then, “interest rates’ upward climb has been weakened somewhat,” Takako Masai, a member of the bank’s policy board, told reporters after a speech Monday. “I get the sense that the purpose of fixed-rate operations has been well conveyed to markets.”