Japan Surprises Markets With More Quantitative Easing

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The Bank of Japan pumped some air under equity markets Friday morning when its board of governors voted to increase its annual asset purchase amount from a target range of ¥60 trillion to 70 trillion (about $540 to $627 billion) to ¥80 trillion ($716 billion). The immediate effect was to push the dollar to a near seven-year high to the yen, with one dollar trading for nearly 112 yen.

Since Japan increased its national sales tax in April, consumer spending in Japan has sputtered. That has reignited worries that deflation will once again take hold in the country, and the Bank of Japan’s governor, Haruhiko Kuroda, had apparently given up on the notion that the economy would be able to boost inflation to the bank’s 2% goal without more intervention.

Low crude oil prices and the drop in consumer demand have tamped down prices in Japan, and the most recent government report on inflation showed that core inflation was just 1%, if the sales tax increase was not included in the calculation. The bank also lowered its expected inflation, excluding food and the impact of the sales tax increase, from 1.9% through March of 2016 to just 1.7%. The bank kept its 2.1% forecast target for March 2017.

U.S. equity futures jumped big-time on the announcement. The Dow traded up about 1.1%, the S&P 500 traded up a like amount and the Nasdaq Composite was trading 1.5% higher. Gold took the news badly, down nearly $25 an ounce (2.1%) at $1,173.80 on the December contract. Gold traded down as much as 2.6% before climbing back somewhat.

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