BOJ still uncertain it can prod inflation to life, minutes show

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The Bank of Japan's decision makers expect private consumption will remain resilient as incomes are improving, but they remained concerned their 2 percent inflation goal would be difficult to keep, meeting minutes show.

Some members said consumer price inflation wouldn't reach the target in fiscal 2017, although they agreed that longer term inflation expectations appear to be rising, the minutes of last month's meeting show. The BOJ has pushed back its timeline for reaching its inflation target to fiscal 2016 and minutes show members expect to tap the target then.

But they were concerned that the risks to prices were on the downside, agreeing that if consumer price inflation fell to zero, it would affect inflation expectations. In March, data showed the consumer inflation rate rose just 0.2 percent, excluding the impact of last year's sales tax hike.

One board member, Takehiro Sato, who has been skeptical of an inflation target timeframe, proposed changing the central bank's wording to "aiming" for the target, rather than "achieving" it.

The central bank remained concerned about the economy, with one member expecting April-June industrial production could be flat amid inventory adjustments. Most members expect fiscal 2017 growth could slow to below potential due to a planned sales tax hike.

Despite government pressure to increase wages, firms have been slow to act. Total cash earnings in March rose 0.1 percent on-year, the fourth straight month of gains, but on an inflation-adjusted basis, real wages were down 2.6 percent, damped by the effects of last year's sales tax hike. The meeting minutes indicated "many" members expect the pace of wage increases may accelerate as salary rises appear to be spreading to smaller firms.

At its last meeting, the BOJ kept its massive monetary stimulus program intact, as widely expected, and revised up its assessment of the economy, calling consumer spending resilient.

In an 8-1 vote, the central bank pledged to increase base money at an annual pace of 80 trillion yen ($660 billion) through purchases of government bonds and risky assets.

The decision followed growth data showing the economy expanded an annualized 2.4 percent in the first quarter, better than expected and following the 1.5 percent annualized growth in the fourth quarter.

But analysts noted that GDP growth was driven by a jump in inventories.