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A 'Japanization' of monetary policy in Europe might not be such a bad thing, Nomura's Koo says

Key Points
  • Speaking to CNBC's Steve Sedgwick at the Ambrosetti Workshop in Italy on Friday, Nomura's Richard Koo said European policymakers were "so worried about 'Japanization.'"
  • 'Japanization' refers to the idea that an economy could endure a sustained period of low-growth expansion accompanied by low levels of inflation.
  • Late last month, analysts at ING reportedly warned the euro zone was starting to resemble Japan with its low-growth and low-inflation environment, coupled with still very loose monetary policy.
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Europe is so worried about 'Japanization,' economist says

European officials should not worry about following in the footsteps of the Bank of Japan (BOJ) when it comes to monetary policy, according to the chief economist of Nomura Research Institute.

His comments come shortly after the European Central Bank (ECB) announced it would put off plans to "normalize " policy, fearing a sharp slowdown in economic growth over the coming months.

Instead, the ECB said it would aim to provide banks with even more liquidity and delay a planned interest hike until 2020.

The move has prompted concern among some market participants, with Europe's central bank potentially set to mirror steps taken by the BOJ.

Speaking to CNBC's Steve Sedgwick at the Ambrosetti Workshop in Italy on Friday, Nomura's Richard Koo said European policymakers were "so worried about 'Japanization.'"

They fear they are going to have "very slow growth, deflation and things (will) just get worse and worse and worse," Koo said, before adding: "Those of us sitting in Japan actually weren't faring all that badly."

What is 'Japanization'?

'Japanization' refers to the idea that an economy could endure a sustained period of low-growth expansion accompanied by low levels of inflation. As a result, interest rates tend to stay low.

Interest rates have not gone up in either the euro zone or Japan since the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve has hiked rates nine times over the same period.

Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank (ECB),left, stands with Haruhiko Kuroda, governor of the Bank of Japan (BOJ), following a panel discussion during the ECB central bank communications conference in Frankfurt, Germany, on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017.
Alex Kraus | Bloomberg via Getty Images

Koo said European policymakers could learn from Japan's so-called "lost decade," when Tokyo's asset bubble burst around three decades ago.

The period from 1991 to 2001 refers to a period of economic stagnation which was marked by near-zero interest rates.

Commercial real estate prices fell 87% nationwide, destroying the balance sheets of Japanese companies and households "in no small way," Koo said.

"Yet, Japan's GDP (gross domestic product) never once fell below the peak of the bubble … And unemployment never went higher than 5.5%."

"So, if that's the Japanization, it's not such a bad thing," he added.

Since Japan's asset bubble burst, the country's debt-to-GDP ratio has ballooned up to 238 percent — higher than any other country in the world by a significant margin.

Late last month, analysts at ING reportedly warned the euro zone was starting to resemble Japan with its low-growth and low-inflation environment, coupled with still very loose monetary policy.