The Bank of Japan (BOJ) kept its massive monetary stimulus program in place on Wednesday as widely expected, but analysts are still penciling in further action in the coming months amid a backdrop of slowing inflation and subpar economic growth.
"The BOJ does not seem to be fully convinced over the strength of the economic recovery," said Marcel Thieliant, Japan economist with Capital Economics, who expects more "preemptive" stimulus coming in late-April.
In an 8-1 vote, the BOJ decided to maintain its pledge to increase base money, or cash and deposits at the central bank, at an annual pace of 80 trillion yen ($671 billion) through purchases of government bonds and risky assets.
"Board members upgraded their assessment of industrial production and exports, which they now see picking up. But they also acknowledged the disappointing fourth quarter GDP (gross domestic product) data released on Monday by noting that the recovery in private consumption has been sluggish in some areas," Thieliant added.
Data on Monday showed the economy emerging from recession, with fourth quarter growth rising an annualized 2.2 percent, after contracting 7.1 percent in the third quarter, and shrinking 1.9 percent in the second quarter. But the growth came in much weaker than the 3.7 percent expected print, adding to the case for further stimulus.
The BOJ last moved in October, when it surprised markets by expanding its quantitative easing (QE) program for the first time since it was launched in April 2013.
Especially in the wake of a sharp fall in oil prices, some analysts say it will become necessary for the BOJ to move to defend its inflation targets. Japan's consumer inflation, stripped of the sales tax hike, stood at 0.5 percent in October, still far short of the central bank's target of 2 percent by March 2016.