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Felix Shipkevich January 24, 2010

Bank of Japan policy makers are prepared to consider expanding an emergency-loan program for banks and increasing purchases of government debt should the recovery falter, people with knowledge of the matter said.

“Should a rise in the yen threaten to damp corporate and consumer sentiment and exacerbate deflation, the BOJ will probably expand the loan program,” said Masaaki Kanno, a 25- year veteran of the central bank who is now chief economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Tokyo. “If that’s not enough, the bank may turn to more bond buying.”

While increased liquidity injections may help restrain the yen, an expansion of the monthly 1.8 trillion yen ($20 billion) of bond purchases may spark concern the BOJ is financing the government’s deficit spending. Central bankers would have to counter any such perception, and may need to stress the urgency for Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s administration to rein in the budget gap, one of the people said.

The Bank of Japan may be unique in considering additional monetary stimulus among the Group of 20 major economies this year. Exporters have led the rebound from the country’s worst postwar recession as falling wages, job losses and factory overcapacity hamper spending and deepen price declines at home.

Expand Credit Program

Central bank Governor Masaaki Shirakawa and his colleagues, who begin a two-day meeting today, will leave the benchmark interest rate at 0.1 percent tomorrow, according to all of the 17 economists surveyed.

One of the analysts, Hiromichi Shirakawa, chief economist at Credit Suisse Group AG in Tokyo and a former BOJ official, said the bank may expand the 10 trillion yen lending program it introduced Dec. 1 in reaction to the yen’s climb to 84.83 per dollar. The currency jumped more than 1 percent at the end of last week, to as high as 89.79 in Tokyo trading, underscoring the risk to the nation’s exporters.

The emergency lending facility, which provides commercial banks with funds for three months at 0.1 percent, could be expanded in stages, one of the people said. Along with increasing the size, officials might extend the maturity of the loans to six months, and later to 12 months, the person said.

‘Crucial Challenge’

Governor Shirakawa said last week that stamping out deflation is a “crucial challenge” and the bank will persist with its low-rate policy to aid growth. He said he expects the economy to keep growing, fueled by overseas sales, though the revival of exports and output has yet to spur domestic demand.

When the yen was trading around 93 per dollar on Jan. 7, Finance Minister Naoto Kan said he wanted it to weaken “a bit more” and he will seek to cooperate with the Bank of Japan on the currency’s level. The yen’s gain last week made it stronger than the 90-to-mid-90s range that Kan has said manufacturers regard as “appropriate.”

There are “still various policy measures that could be taken” by the government and the bank, Kan said Jan. 14. Last week he said it “would be going too far if the government asked the BOJ to implement specific monetary policy measures.”

With a public debt that’s almost twice the size of the economy, Kan may have little room to increase spending beyond the record 92.3 trillion yen budgeted for the year starting April 1.

‘Put the Heat On’

“The government may put the heat on the BOJ should the yen gain rapidly and stocks slide before the fiscal year end,” said Mari Iwashita, chief market economist at Nikko Cordial Securities Inc. in Tokyo. “The government is overwhelmed by the task of passing next year’s budget bill, so it has no choice but to depend on the BOJ if the economy stumbles.”

So far, borrowing costs remain contained even as the fiscal condition deteriorates, as deflation attracts investors to government debt. The yield on the 10-year note was at 1.325 percent on Jan. 22.

“I see a 30 percent chance that the bank will buy more bonds,” said Yasunari Ueno, chief market economist at Mizuho Securities Co. in Tokyo. “The BOJ at heart probably wants to prevent more bond purchases because any increase would fuel speculation” that it will monetize the debt, Ueno said.

Any consideration by the board to buy more government bonds may hinge on whether the bank sticks to a self-imposed rule of limiting its holdings of the securities lower than the amount of bank notes in circulation. Bank notes are decreasing and the room to increase bond purchases is narrowing, one of the people with knowledge of the situation said.

Another option is for the bank to specify the period for keeping rates low, one of the people said, adding that it’s not currently an urgent issue. When it introduced a quantitative easing policy of pumping cash into the banking system in March 2001, it said the step would stay until prices stopped falling.

–With assistance from Minh Bui in Tokyo. Editors: Chris Anstey, Russell Ward

To contact the reporters on this story: Mayumi Otsuma in Tokyo +81-3-3201-8966 or at [email protected]; Masahiro Hidaka in Tokyo at +81-3-3201-3564 or [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Anstey at +81-3-3201-7553 or [email protected]

-0- Jan/24/2010 15:01 GMT