Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa warned on Thursday of major risks to global growth even as he stuck to his view that Japan's economy is headed for a moderate recovery, signaling the bank's readiness to maintain its ultra-loose policy bias.
Shirakawa said Japan's economy is showing signs of picking up, with public works spending on the rise and companies' capital spending on a moderate uptrend due to rebuilding from last year's devastating earthquake and tsunami.
But he said global economic uncertainty remains high, given Europe's sovereign debt problems, rising commodity costs and the tough balancing act that emerging economies face in trying to rein in inflation while sustaining economic growth.
"Global financial markets are stable as a whole. But we need to stay mindful of the risk that Europe's debt problems may affect Japan through market developments," Shirakawa said in a speech at a quarterly meeting of the central bank's regional branch managers.
His views on the economy were roughly in line with those of the government, which maintained its assessment that growth is slowly recovering in a monthly report issued on Thursday.
In the report, the government upgraded its view on exports for the first time since August to say they are leveling off due to a moderate recovery in the U.S. economy and improvement in shipments to Asia.
Japan's economic recovery is expected to take hold in the coming months but there are risks from Europe's debt crisis, higher oil prices and concerns about the electricity supply, the report said.
GLIMMER OF HOPE?
The BOJ has nudged interest rates virtually to zero and created an asset-buying fund to pump money into the economy through purchases of government bonds and corporate debt.
It surprised markets in February by boosting its target for asset purchases by double the usual increment and setting a 1 percent inflation goal, signaling a more aggressive policy to beat deflation, which has plagued the economy for nearly two decades.
The central bank has kept monetary policy steady since then but will consider easing at its next rate review on April 27 by boosting asset purchases, sources said.
Shirakawa, in his speech, stressed that the BOJ will continue to pursue powerful monetary easing to pull Japan out of deflation, repeating the central bank's official line.
In a sign the economy is slowly emerging from stagnation, the BOJ upgraded its view on two out of nine of Japan's regional economies and left its view unchanged for the remainder in a quarterly report on Thursday.
That was a marked improvement from the previous report in January, when it cut its view on seven of the nine regions.
Many regions saw resilience in private consumption, with some citing brisk spending for luxury goods, leisure and cars. For the central Tokai region, home to much of Japan's automaking industry, it raised its assessment to say growth was picking up.
But economic activity in the western Kinki region, home to big electronics makers, remained stagnant, the report said, as companies struggle from a strong yen, fierce price competition and power supply constraints.
"Electronics makers, the region's key industry, aren't doing well," said Hideo Hayakawa, branch manager for Osaka in western Japan. "What's a bit concerning is that the recovery in China is weaker than we had hoped," he said.
Data released by the BOJ on Thursday showed Japanese wholesale prices rose 0.6 percent in March from a year earlier, adding to signs that rising raw material costs were squeezing corporate profits.
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