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BoJ cuts growth, inflation view as Japan economy stalls
[TOKYO] The Bank of Japan on Friday cut its growth outlook and pushed back the timeline for a key inflation target, but held off fresh easing even as Tokyo's blueprint for reviving the world's number three economy falters.
The central bank's chief left the door open to more stimulus, however, and said there was "no limit" to what policymakers could do.
Japan is teetering on the edge of recession in the face of slowing growth in China and shaky global economy, while weak inflation and consumer spending at home have also helped slam the brakes on growth.
Some analysts had predicted the Bank of Japan would expand its massive 80 trillion yen (S$930 billion) annual asset-buying scheme, launched more than two years ago to kickstart growth and drag prices out of a decades-long downward spiral.
But it stood pat on Friday - despite concerns the economy shrank in the three months through September for the second consecutive quarter - and hours later underscored the problems it faces by cutting its growth and inflation predictions.
The central bank said it now expected growth to come in at 1.2 per cent in the fiscal year to March 2016, down from an earlier 1.7 per cent projection.
It also forecast it would reach its two percent inflation target in the six months ending March 2017 - half a year later than previously expected.
Some analysts said it was only a matter of time before the BoJ has to ramp up its stimulus again, possibly at its next meeting in mid-November, when official July-October growth figures are published.
"They could move after the next meeting - expectations for more easing aren't going away," said Mitsuo Shimizu, deputy general manager of Japan Asia Securities Group.
The BoJ's fresh forecasts highlight Japan's fading prospects and underscore how the central bank's war on deflation has been tougher than hoped.
The vast monetary easing is a cornerstone of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's pro-spending growth blitz, dubbed "Abenomics", which has faltered after initially setting off a stock market rally and weakening the yen, giving a lift to corporate profits.
But Abe has struggled to cut red tape and shake up the regulated economy, with the wider impact of his programme being limited.
Central bank chief Haruhiko Kuroda has repeatedly insisted that the plan is on course a year after the bank shocked markets by expanding the programme to its current level.
On Friday, he acknowledged that salaries were not rising as much as expected, but insisted that a plunge in crude oil prices was the main culprit slowing down the BoJ's inflation goals.
"We'll adjust policy without hesitation with additional easing or whatever else - I don't see any limit to our policy options," he told reporters.
Also Friday, government data showed core consumer prices - excluding food - contracted 0.1 per cent in September from a year ago, the month after posting its first price decline since 2013.
While falling or stagnant prices may seem like a good thing for consumers, they tend to put people off buying goods and that, in turn, hurts firms which roll back their new investment and hiring.
Household spending also fell last month, in a sign that efforts to turn around Japan's so-called "deflationary mindset" were struggling.
"The BoJ's monetary accommodation over the past two and a half years has had only a limited impact on Japan's growth and inflation," said Kiichi Murashima, chief economist at Citigroup in Japan.
"Policymakers had expected a much larger impact on the economy... And the deterioration in the global economic outlook, including developments in China, will likely make Japanese companies more cautious about expanding business investment and raising wages," he added.
A sales tax rise last year - aimed at taming Japan's huge national debt - also hammered consumer spending, denting demand for products made by firms that are also facing slowing growth overseas.