Japan consumer prices fall for 5th month, raising pressure on central bank

Pedestrians walk past Japanese retail store Uniqlo in Tokyo on July 15.
Pedestrians walk past Japanese retail store Uniqlo in Tokyo on July 15.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Consumer prices in Japan fell for a fifth straight month, underscoring the central bank's struggle to spur inflation to its 2 per cent target.

The figures released Friday (Aug 26) are the last reading on this key measure before Bank Of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda and his board consider a possible policy revamp at their next meeting on Sept 20-21.

Consumer prices excluding fresh food, the Bank of Japan's core gauge, dropped 0.5 per cent in July from a year earlier Consumer prices overall slipped 0.4 pe rcent.

Consumer prices excluding food and energy rose 0.3 per cent.

After more than three years of unprecedented monetary stimulus, the BOJ is no closer to its price target and investors are asking whether the central bank is running up against the limits of its effectiveness. Mr Kuroda has ordered a comprehensive assessment of policy that may result in further monetary easing, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg. The yen's gains this year, weak exports and fragile consumer spending at home are adding to the BOJ's woes.

"Given Kuroda has said he will act if the price target is in danger, today's data confirms he has to take action again," said Nobuyasu Atago, chief economist at Okasan Securities, previously head of the BOJ's price statistics division. "The strong yen is a big factor dragging on price growth and that is expected to continue."

"The problem for the BOJ is, the Bank of Japan has pretty much exhausted all of its monetary policy tools to reflate the economy," said Takuji Okubo, chief economist at Japan Macro Advisors.

The yen has gained about 20 per cent in 2016 against the US dollar, reducing inflationary pressures from imports while hurting export-dependent companies.