Bank of Japan holds fire on fresh stimulus, gives bleaker economic outlook

People walk past the Bank of Japan in Tokyo in this March 10, 2010 file photo.
People walk past the Bank of Japan in Tokyo in this March 10, 2010 file photo. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP, REUTERS) - Japan's central bank on Tuesday (March 15) held fire on unleashing more stimulus, after its surprise introduction of negative interest rates earlier this year was slammed as a desperate bid to stir growth.

The decision was widely expected, as policymakers gauge the impact of their unprecedented move, but analysts predicted the BOJ will be forced to act again after the world's number three economy shrank in the last quarter of 2015.

"Sluggish economic activity and the stronger yen suggest that policymakers will have to announce more easing soon, probably next month," said Marcel Thieliant from research house Capital Economics.

The policy announcement was the BoJ's first since it shocked markets in January by unveiling a below-zero interest rate policy, effectively charging commercial banks to deposit some of their reserves in its vaults.

The unprecedented move for Japan's central bank is aimed at giving banks an incentive to lend out money and, in turn, stoke growth in the wider economy.

But the plan was widely panned as a "Hail Mary" that was unlikely to boost loans, given already weak demand from both businesses and ordinary people.

BoJ chief Haruhiko Kuroda cited financial market turmoil and slowing growth in China as he ushered in the -0.1 per cent rate for new reserves, and said the bank may go even further into negative territory.

The bank pointed to a "moderate recovery" in Japan's economy for staying its hand on Tuesday, but conceded that exports and industrial production have been weak because of a slowdown in emerging economies.

It made no change to its 80 trillion yen (S$971 billion) asset-buying plan.

The BoJ's policies are a cornerstone of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's big-spending, easy money growth plan, dubbed "Abenomics".

But the high-profile venture has largely failed to generate a sustained recovery in Japan's economy or conquer the deflation that has weighed on growth for years.

In a stark acknowledgement of the huge job ahead, the BoJ in January cut its inflation forecasts and pushed back the timeline for reaching a 2.0 per cent inflation goal.

"Japan's economy continues to recover moderately as a trend, although exports and production have been sluggish due mainly to the effects of slowing emerging markets growth," the BOJ said in a statement announcing the policy decision, offering a slightly bleaker view than in January.

BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda will hold a news conference at 2:30 pm Singapore time to explain the policy decision.