Business World

Wednesday 27 March 2019

Japan drives rates below zero in bid to fuel its long-moribund economy

The Japanese economy has been in long-term stagnation
The Japanese economy has been in long-term stagnation

Ceita Kihara

The Bank of Japan (BoJ) bought three-month government debt for more than the redemption value on Tuesday, traders said, essentially paying to lend money to the market.

The central bank's first purchase at a yield less than zero underscores its determination to pay literally any price to help reflate the long-moribund economy. BOJ officials wouldn't confirm the negative-yield purchases, which were part of a market operation that bought 500 billion yen (€3.6bn) of short-term bills, on the grounds they cannot disclose individual transactions. But the bank was clearly untroubled by the idea of crossing this line.

"Basically, I don't see any problem" with buying at below-zero rates, BOJ deputy governor Kikuo Iwata said yesterday during a visit to Kanazawa in central Japan.

"I don't think this will cause any disruptions in the BOJ's market operations."

Having paid such a high price, the BOJ will likely have to continue doing so as banks know it is determined to meet its target of asset purchases, potentially pushing negative yields out to longer-dated debt, market participants said.

The unconventional move, and the prospect of more to come, could revive criticism that the BOJ is "monetising" the national debt - essentially giving politicians carte blanche to spend the money the BOJ is printing under its easing programme. Giving away money, as the BOJ will be doing if it holds the paper to maturity, could also be seen as subsidising Japanese banks. Lenders that buy debt from the government stand to make an easy profit if the government pays above par, or face value, for the paper.

But going below zero does not signal that the BOJ will soon need to formally change policy, said officials familiar with the central bank's thinking.

Indeed, they said, negative yields are a result of the current massive asset purchases that are aimed at ending 15 years of deflation by doubling base money in the economy and pushing consumer-price inflation to 2pc during the fiscal year from next April. (Reuters)

The European Central Bank has explicitly targeted a negative rate for overnight deposits.

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