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* Firms prices to rise 0.8 pct a year from now - BOJ
* No change to firms' forecasts 3, 5 years ahead - BOJ
* Inflation expectations key to BOJ's stimulus program success
* Survey among factors BOJ will scrutinize at rate review
TOKYO, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Japanese companies' inflation expectations heightened slightly in December from three months ago, offering some hope for the central bank in its fight to hit its elusive 2 percent inflation target.
Companies surveyed by the Bank of Japan expect consumer prices to rise 0.8 percent a year from now, higher than their projection for a 0.7 percent increase three months ago.
Firms also expect consumer prices to rise an annual 1.1 percent three years from now and 1.1 percent five years ahead, unchanged from three months ago, the BOJ's quarterly "tankan" survey on corporate inflation expectations showed on Monday.
The data comes after the BOJ's tankan survey on business sentiment last week showed big manufacturers' confidence hit an 11-year high on robust exports and booming corporate profits.
The BOJ deployed a massive stimulus program in 2013 in the hope of shocking the public out of its deflationary mindset and boosting corporate and household inflation expectations.
Having failed to eradicate Japan's sticky pattern of deflation, the BOJ revamped its policy framework last year to one better suited at a long-term battle against deflation.
Japan's economy expanded an annualized 2.5 percent in the July-September period to mark a seventh straight quarter of expansion, supporting the BOJ's recent signals it could edge away from crisis-mode policy earlier than expected.
But core consumer inflation remains stuck at 0.8 percent, well below its 2 percent target, as firms remain reluctant to raise prices for fear of scaring away cost-sensitive households.
The surveys will be among factors the BOJ board will scrutinize when it meets for a two-day rate review ending on Thursday. (Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Sam Holmes)