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[TOKYO] Economists from Nomura Holdings Inc to BNP Paribas SA lowered their forecasts for Japan's economy this week, making the central bank's growth outlook for this year look increasingly optimistic.
The trigger - a second-quarter contraction reported on Monday - also led Bank of America Corp and NLI Research Institute to trim their projections for the fiscal year through March 2016. The world's third-biggest economy is now set to grow 1.2 per cent over the 12 months, according to the median of 13 estimates from economists, less than the 1.7 per cent forecast by the Bank of Japan.
The upshot is likely to be the BOJ reducing its growth outlook when it provides updated projections on Oct 30, fanning speculation for another boost in monetary stimulus. Slower growth would add to headwinds for the central bank, as declines in the price of oil and other commodities dim prospects for the pickup in inflation.
"Lowering its growth forecast will put the BOJ in an even tougher position," said Masamichi Adachi, an economist at JPMorgan and former BOJ official. "Bets on further stimulus will increase as risks to the BOJ's inflation target are clearly rising." A survey of 37 economists from July 27 to Aug 3 showed 12 forecasting an increase in stimulus at the Oct 30 policy board meeting, when the BOJ will release its latest estimates for growth and inflation.
Even with a sizable reduction in its economic forecast, the BOJ may choose to maintain the current pace of asset purchases, said Adachi, noting that the economy would still be performing above its 0.5 per cent growth potential, stoking price pressures as demand catches up with supply.
Any adjustment to the BOJ's outlook for achieving the 2 per cent inflation target would only come after assessing the strength of Japan's rebound this summer, people familiar with the matter said earlier this month.
Uncertainty about the strength of a pickup in growth this summer is high after declines in consumer spending and exports contributed to the 1.6 per cent contraction in gross domestic product last quarter, said Yoshiki Shinke, an economist at Dai- ichi Life Research Institute.
Japan's export growth slowed in July as shipments to China stalled, and consumer confidence fell to the lowest level in six months. The BOJ's main gauge of consumer prices is estimated to have declined 0.2 per cent from a year earlier in July, according to the latest estimate in a separate Bloomberg survey.