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Japan PM Abe's aide criticises Bank of Japan's negative rate policy

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Koichi Hamada, professor emeritus of economics at Yale University, said the BOJ must ensure interest rates do not fall to a "reversal rate," or a level that could do more harm than good by crippling financial institutions' ability to lend.

[TOKYO] A key economic adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe criticised the Bank of Japan for its negative interest rate policy and called for bolder fiscal measures to underpin a fragile economy.

Koichi Hamada, professor emeritus of economics at Yale University, said the BOJ must ensure interest rates do not fall to a "reversal rate," or a level that could do more harm than good by crippling financial institutions' ability to lend.

"Negative interest rates hurt, particularly smaller financial institutions' health, so the BOJ must try to avoid a situation where interest rates reach a level deemed as a reversal rate," Prof Hamada said.

"There are limits to how much the BOJ can fine-tune the yield curve. In such cases, it's necessary for fiscal policy to coordinate with monetary policy in such a way as to push up real and nominal interest rates," he told Reuters in an email interview conducted earlier this week.

Prof Hamada is among the architects of the premier's "Abenomics" stimulus programme deployed nearly seven years ago that consisted of the three arrows - bold monetary easing, flexible fiscal policy and structural reform.

His remarks come as Abenomics reaches a turning point, with the boost to growth from the monetary and fiscal policy arrows tapering off.

Having failed to achieve its elusive 2 per cent inflation target despite launching a "bazooka" massive asset-buying programme, the BOJ has exhausted its tools to fight another recession.

Fiscal policy, too, is constrained by Japan's huge public debt that is the biggest among major industrialised nations.

Prof Hamada, however, countered the view Japan has limited scope to expand fiscal spending, arguing that the government should make the most from ultra-low interest rates by boosting public spending.

"When interest rates are low, the government's dependence on debt won't rise even if it issues public bonds for spending," Prof Hamada said. "When the private sectors are in excess savings, deficit financing works rather well to improve the public welfare."

Japan compiled a US$122 billion fiscal package earlier this month to support its stalling economy, hit by the global trade war, typhoons and a sales tax hike, and as policymakers look to sustain activity beyond the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Under a policy dubbed yield curve control, the BOJ aims to guide short-term rates at minus 0.1 per cent and the 10-year government bond yield around 0 per cent.

Years of heavy money printing have failed to fire up inflation to the BOJ's target, forcing the central bank to maintain its massive stimulus despite the hit to financial institutions' profits from ultra-low rates. 

REUTERS