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Japan firms’ inflation expectations weaken, keeps BOJ under pressure

© Reuters. A security officer stands guard near half-blooming cherry blossoms, outside the Bank of Japan headquarters in Tokyo© Reuters. A security officer stands guard near half-blooming cherry blossoms, outside the Bank of Japan headquarters in Tokyo

By Leika Kihara

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese companies’ long-term inflation expectations weakened in March from three months ago, a central bank survey showed, a sign January’s decision to adopt negative interest rates has failed to convince firms that price rises will accelerate over time.

The survey reinforces market doubts over the Bank of Japan’s argument that its massive money printing will nudge firms into boosting spending on expectations of future increases in prices.

It also underscores the challenge the central bank faces in accelerating inflation to its 2 percent target from current levels around zero, keeping it under pressure to expand monetary stimulus again.

Companies expect consumer prices to rise an average 0.8 percent a year from now, lower than a 1.0 percent increase expected three months ago, the survey showed on Monday.

Firms polled by the BOJ, as part of its detailed “tankan” survey for March, also said they expect consumer prices to rise an annual 1.1 percent three years from now, less than 1.3 percent forecast in March.

Moreover, companies’ consumer inflation projections five years ahead was lowered to a 1.2 percent rise from a 1.4 percent increase, the survey showed.

“Inflation expectations for three- and five-years ahead have never heightened since the BOJ began compiling this survey,” said Yasunari Ueno, chief market economist at Mizuho Securities. “It’s clear the BOJ’s attempt to drive up inflation expectations with bold monetary easing has failed.”

The BOJ stunned markets by deciding in January to add negative interest rates to its massive asset-buying program in a fresh effort to revive the economy after years of stagnation.

But the step has failed to boost stock prices or arrest an unwelcome rise in the yen, and has drawn criticism from lawmakers and financial institutions as confusing rather than calming markets.

Big manufacturers’ business confidence soured to the lowest in nearly three years and is seen worsening in the coming quarter, the BOJ’s “tankan” business sentiment survey showed on Friday, heightening pressure on the central bank to shore up the ailing economy.

The BOJ is expected to cut its consumer inflation forecasts at its rate review later this month, though many central bank policymakers are reluctant to top up stimulus after having just deployed negative interest rates in January.

The central bank started the survey on corporate price expectations from the tankan in March 2014 to gather more information on inflation expectations, key to its current stimulus program.

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