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BOJ to decide on bond-buying taper this week, economists say



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By Satoshi Sugiyama

TOKYO, June 11 (Reuters) -The Bank of Japan will decide to start tapering its monthly bond buying at this week's policy meeting, nearly two-thirds of economists said in a Reuters poll, taking an important first step toward eventually reducing its ballooning balance sheet.

The findings show a majority of economists are convinced the Japanese central bank is laying the groundwork, possibly earlier than expected, for monetary policy tightening at a time most other major central banks are leaning toward easing.

BOJ policymakers are brainstorming ways to slow its bond buying and may offer fresh guidance as early as the two-day policy-setting meeting ending on Friday, Reuters reported.

Nearly two-thirds of economists, or 20 of 32, projected the BOJ would make a decision on bond buying, according to the June 3-7 poll. That was up sharply from 41%, or 11 of 27, in May.

"There is no longer any reason to continue large-scale purchases of government bonds since it has been judged that a 2% rise in prices is within reach," said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.

The BOJ's balance sheet is 750 trillion yen ($4.77 trillion), nearly 1.3 times the size of Japan's economy.

The risks of renewed selling pressure on the yen will also increase if the BOJ does not address rolling back bond purchases this month, said Kazutaka Maeda, economist at Meiji Yasuda Research Institute.

A 16% minority of economists said the central bank would make the decision at its July policy meeting, while 9% said September. The rest chose either some time in October or after. One said the BOJ would not reduce its pace of bond purchases any time soon.

There were few changes in the June poll compared with last month's on the policy interest rate. All but one predicted the BOJ would hold its short-term rate in a 0-0.1% range at its policy meeting this week.

A 92% majority (49 of 53) said that rate would rise to at least 0.20% by year-end, up slightly from 88% (43 of 59) in the May poll.

Nearly half of respondents, 27 of 55, said the policy rate would jump to between 0.20% and 0.50% in the July-September quarter, virtually the same proportion as last month's survey.

Julius Baer, the only firm predicting higher rates in the current quarter ending this month, expected the BOJ to raise its short-term rate to 0.30% by the end of September.

Another 43% of economists, 23 of 53, forecast the BOJ to put up rates to either 0.20% or 0.25% in October-December.

Of a sample of 38 who provided a forecast for which specific month the BOJ would next hike rates, predictions were close, with July and October at 39% each.

Another 13% chose September, followed by 3% each for December, "2025 or later" and "BOJ will not raise rates further."

A further 84% of economists, 26 of 31, said the government and the BOJ will intervene to stem the Japanese currency from weakening further, almost exactly the same as 85% in May. A majority expect action at 160 yen against the U.S. dollar.

Over three-fifths, or 19 of 31, said they expect the government's temporary cuts in income and resident taxes starting this month would stimulate consumption.

(For other stories from the Reuters global economic poll: nL4N3I324H)


($1 = 157.1100 yen)



Reporting by Satoshi Sugiyama; Polling by Milounee Purohit and Anant Chandak; Editing by Sam Holmes

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