Bank of Japan

Bank of Japan at the Policy Frontier

Since Governor Haruhiko Kuroda took office in March 2013, the Bank of Japan (BoJ) has been the most aggressively expansionary advanced-economy central bank. Its announcement last month of a “new framework for strengthening monetary easing”—coming only six months after introducing negative policy rates—distances it even further from the pack.

That a central bank is willing to assess its performance transparently and to consider new approaches to achieving its key goals is something we have come to expect. While it’s much too early to tell whether the latest BoJ innovations will be more successful, there is reason to be skeptical. No less important, the new approach involves risks to the central bank and to financial market stability that may not be fully appreciated. Given the difficulties that other advanced-economy central banks seem to be having in raising inflation and inflation expectations, how the BoJ fares is of interest far beyond Japan.

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How Low Can They Go?

Not long ago, nearly everyone thought that nominal interest rates could not go below zero. Now, we have negative policy rates in the euro area and Japan, while in Sweden and Switzerland, the lowest controlled rate is below -1%. And government securities worth trillions of dollars bear negative rates, too.

When we first wrote about negative rates a year ago, we argued that the effective lower bound (ELB, rather than ZLB) for nominal rates was determined by the transactions costs of storing and transferring cash. We reasoned that the ELB might be in the range of -0.50% (minus one-half percent). Below that, we thought, there would be a move into cash, facilitated by banks and others who efficiently manage the notes for clients.

But, at the negative rates that we have seen so far, cash in circulation has not spiked. So, how much further can nominal interest rates fall? And what role should negative interest rates play in the future?

 

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Learning from Japan: It's Hard to End a Deflation

In 1974, when the Fed faced rising inflation, the U.S. government sought to “Whip Inflation Now” by encouraging people to wear “WIN” buttons. Today, the problem is reversed. Several central banks are having trouble creating inflation. Unfortunately, we doubt that “SIN” buttons – “Support Inflation Now” – will be any more effective than the earlier variety, which served mainly as fodder for late-night comedy.

As has been the case for some time, Japan is blazing the trail into the monetary and fiscal unknown. Today's Bank of Japan's (BoJ) leadership is far more determined to promote price stability than its predecessors over the past two decades. But the deflationary hole that Japan is climbing out of is so deep that the BoJ may need some help...

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