Japan’s Feb inflation likely quickened as BOJ weighs ditching negative rates: Reuters poll

By Thomson Reuters Mar 14, 2024 | 11:26 PM

By Satoshi Sugiyama

TOKYO (Reuters) – Inflation in Japan is expected to have accelerated further in February as the effects of government fuel subsidies faded, a Reuters poll showed on Friday, boosting expectations the Bank of Japan will end negative interest rates soon.

The nationwide core consumer price index (CPI), which excludes fresh foods but includes energy items, was seen up 2.8% in February from a year ago, rising at the fastest pace since October, the median forecast of 15 economists showed. That followed a 2.0% gain in January.

“While the momentum of food price increases is slowing, the extent of year-on-year declines in energy prices will narrow from the previous month … as the government’s measures to curb rising prices partially wore off,” said Shunpei Fujita, an economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting.

At the same time, economists forecast a slowing in a price index that strips away the effects of energy costs, seen as an indicator of broader price trends.

That could reinforce the BOJ’s focus on whether Japanese workers will see strong enough pay hikes at spring wage talks to boost consumption.

Japan’s largest trade union group is due to announce results of the annual wage talks on Friday afternoon, with expectations for a rise of more than 4%, which would be the biggest boost since the early 1990s and strengthen the case for a central bank shift away from years of ultra-loose monetary policy.

With inflation exceeding the BOJ’s 2% target for well over a year and prospects for sustained wage gains heightening, many market players expect the central bank to end negative interest rate policy this month or in April.

Analysts in the poll also estimated Japan’s exports in February likely rose for the third straight month, rising 5.3% from the same month a year earlier but at a slower pace than January’s 11.9%.

February’s imports were seen up 2.2% from a year earlier after a 9.6% decrease in the previous month, resulting in a trade deficit of 810.2 billion yen ($5.46 billion), the poll showed.

The government will release the CPI data at 8:30 a.m. on March 22 (2330 GMT, March 21). Trade data will be available at 8:50 a.m. on March 21 (2350 GMT, March 20).

($1 = 148.3900 yen)

(Reporting by Satoshi Sugiyama; Editing by Kim Coghill)