Dec 3 (Reuters) - Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda faces a rift on his policy board with half of his fellow members either voicing doubt over the central bank's rosy economic and price forecasts or calling for its ambitious price target to be watered down. While the remaining policymakers remain loyal to Kuroda for now, the 5-to-4 division may affect the timing and the tools the BOJ can deploy if it needs to expand monetary stimulus further. Under Kuroda, the BOJ unleashed an intense burst of stimulus on April 4, promising to double base money via aggressive asset purchases to break 15 years of price declines and achieve 2 percent inflation in two years. Following are profiles of the nine board members:
THE OPTIMISTS HARUHIKO KURODA, 69, GOVERNOR - Hand-picked by premier Shinzo Abe for the job in March, the former head of the Asian Development Bank successfully deployed the first arrow of Abe's quiver of reflationary polices in less than a month, helping weaken the yen, drive up Tokyo stocks and boost consumer sentiment. Kuroda had long criticised the BOJ for doing too little, too late to end deflation. An advocate of reflationary policies, he insists the April stimulus will be enough to achieve 2 percent inflation in two years despite scepticism in markets and within the BOJ that the policy can work so quickly. A voracious reader of books ranging from philosophy to detective novels, Kuroda is by nature an optimist, say people close to him.
KIKUO IWATA, 71, DEPUTY GOVERNOR - Before joining the BOJ with Kuroda in March, Iwata was among its best-known academic critics, arguing the central bank could have ended deflation sooner with more aggressive action. Iwata's prescriptions formed the basis of the April policy that targets base money, instead of interest rates. He feels flooding the economy with cash can break Japan's deflationary mindset and encourage companies and households to spend, rather than hoard cash. Like Kuroda, he is optimistic the BOJ's bold experiment will succeed. He feels the central bank should not act incrementally in response to temporary economic bumps and favours buying low-risk government bonds over risky assets.
HIROSHI NAKASO, 60, DEPUTY GOVERNOR - The only career central banker on the current board, Nakaso was in charge of the BOJ's international affairs before becoming deputy governor. Nakaso, who speaks English fluently and has extensive overseas contacts, played a key role in containing the damage to global banks from the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. When the BOJ ended its previous quantitative easing in 2006, he was tasked with draining the vast amounts of liquidity from the financial system without disrupting money markets. That unique experience makes him key in crafting an exit policy when the BOJ feels the time is right. For now, Nakaso refuses to talk about an exit strategy and has supported the central bank's price projections, putting him firmly in Kuroda's camp.
NEUTRAL KOJI ISHIDA, 66, BOARD MEMBER - A veteran commercial banker who joined the BOJ board in 2011, he used to echo the caution of previous Governor Masaaki Shirakawa over filling the BOJ's balance sheet with long-term debt for fear of binding its policy hands in the future. Since Kuroda took the helm, Ishida has not talked publicly of the drawbacks of ultra-loose policy. He supported the April stimulus. Unlike some board members who openly question the BOJ's forecasts, Ishida feels that central bankers should speak with one voice to avoid undermining the BOJ's message that it is committed to achieving its price target. In September, he said policymakers should not over react to temporary blips in the economy from next year's sales tax hike, echoing Kuroda's view that further monetary easing would be required only in response to a much bigger shock.
YOSHIHISA MORIMOTO, 69, BOARD MEMBER - The former utility executive has voted with the majority since joining the board in 2010 and has toed the BOJ's official line on the economy. Like Ishida, he has refrained from openly questioning the feasibility of the BOJ's policy. In a speech in August, Morimoto echoed the BOJ's projection that Japan is making steady progress towards achieving the price target, saying he saw no immediate need to expand stimulus.
PESSIMISTS TAKEHIRO SATO, 52, BOARD MEMBER - The former economist of Morgan Stanley MUFG Securities was initially regarded as an advocate of aggressive monetary easing when he joined the board in 2012 for arguing that buying foreign bonds should be a BOJ option. He has gradually shifted course, backing down from the radical idea and dissenting from the BOJ's decision under Shirakawa in January to double the central bank's inflation target to 2 percent. Since then, Sato has argued that the BOJ's target of lifting inflation to 2 percent in two years should be interpreted with some flexibility given the difficulty of exiting deflation. Sato was among the three dissenters to the BOJ's rosy price projections in October, proposing unsuccessfully to water down the price target by considering it as a range surrounding 2 percent.
TAKAHIDE KIUCHI, 50, BOARD MEMBER - The former Nomura Securities economist, who joined the board in 2012, voted with Sato against doubling the inflation target. He argued the level was far above what was sustainable for a country that had seldom experienced such high inflation, even during asset bubbles. Kiuchi joined the rest of the board in voting for most of Kuroda's stimulus policy in April. But he proposed diluting the price target and reviewing the ultra-loose framework after two years, to ensure the wall of money would not create unwelcome imbalances in the economy. He is sceptical aggressive money-printing can create inflation, and is regarded as among those hesitant to expand stimulus. Among the three dissenters to the BOJ's projections in October, Kiuchi said last month there was room to re-examine the 2 percent price target and that the central bank should not specify a time frame for reaching the goal.
SAYURI SHIRAI, 50, BOARD MEMBER - The former International Monetary Fund economist dissented on the BOJ's October projections, arguing more focus should be put on risks such as the economic impact from an increase next year in the national sales tax and soft overseas demand. Unlike Sato and Kiuchi, she has no doubts about the feasibility of aiming for 2 percent inflation in two years and has dismissed the idea of relaxing the price target. She said last month that the BOJ should consider easing again if the economy sharply undershoots the central bank's projections. She also said risks to the outlook were tilted to the downside, suggesting that she would be among those keen to pre-empt any damage to the economy with policy changes. The only woman in the board, she joined the BOJ in 2011.
RYUZO MIYAO, 49, BOARD MEMBER - A soft-spoken former academic known for his research on inflation-targeting policies, Miyao is the longest-serving member of the board having joined the BOJ in 2010. He made several unsuccessful proposals to boost stimulus under previous Governor Shirakawa but has toed the Kuroda line. In a speech last month, Miyao warned that a pickup in global growth may be delayed, stressing that risks to the outlook were tilted to the downside. The remarks have led markets to regard him as among the growing number of pessimists on the board.
(Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by William Mallard and Neil Fullick)