July 7, 2017 / 8:14 AM / a month ago

Bank of Japan offers to buy unlimited amount of bonds to calm markets

TOKYO (Reuters) - The Bank of Japan offered to buy an unlimited amount of JGBs on Friday, as it sought to put a lid on domestic interest rates pushed higher by the broad sell-off in developed market bonds.

Its aggressive bond buying operations sent most Japanese government bond yields lower and weakened the yen. It also marked a reversal in the recent slow and stealth tapering of the bond buying operation central to its easy monetary policy.

"The BOJ has sent a very strong signal that they are committed to the yield curve control policy and they are not coming to the global tightening party. The reward has been a lower currency," said Ray Attrill, head of FX strategy at NAB in Sydney.

The BOJ's announcement followed a spike in 10-year Japanese government bond yields to 0.105 percent, its highest since early February and significantly higher than the zero percent it targets for that maturity under its yield-curve-control policy.

The spike was in parallel to the steep rise in German, U.S. and other European bond yields over the past week and a half, spurred by concerns global central banks are moving toward reducing stimulus.

It had its origins in a string of hawkish messages from the European Central Bank, the Bank of England and the Bank of Canada, furthered on Thursday by minutes from the European Central Bank's latest meeting showing it could be open to scrapping its bond-buying pledge.

The Federal Reserve's policy meeting minutes this week suggested it may also soon begin paring back its large bond holdings in the coming months.

But BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda had said in March that it was possible the central bank won't increase its bond yield targets even as overseas long-term interest rates rise.

POWERFUL WEAPON

To ensure it had a stronger shield in case increased buying was not enough, the BOJ employed its most powerful weapon -- of unconditional buying at specific yield -- only for a third time after it started its yield curve control policy in September.

In a special market operation on Friday, the BOJ offered to buy an unlimited amount of 10-year JGBs at a yield of 0.110 percent.

This came on top of an increase in the size of its regular auction-based purchase of five to 10-year maturities to 500 billion yen from the previous 450 billion yen.

A man rides a bicycle past the Bank of Japan (BOJ) building in Tokyo, Japan March 18, 2009.Yuriko Nakao/Files

"The BOJ showed its strong determination to keep the 10-year yield around zero percent and not to let it rise above 0.10 percent," said Koichi Sugisaki, strategist at Morgan Stanley MUFG Securities.

Following the BOJ's operation announcement the 10-year yield fell to 0.085 percent while expectations of widening in yield differentials with other countries sent the yen down to 113.835 to the dollar, its lowest in a month and a half.

The BOJ's offer of unlimited buying drew no selling because the market quickly recovered on the announcement, enabling any sellers to offload JGBs at better prices in the market, rather than to the BOJ.

But Friday's increase in bond buying went against the central bank's attempts in recent months to reduce its massive debt purchases.

People walk past the Bank of Japan building in Tokyo, Japan June 16, 2017.Toru Hanai/Files

The BOJ has been slowing the pace of its bond buys as its holdings of JGBs have already topped 40 percent of the entire market, threatening the smooth functioning of the bond market.

To avoid running out of JGBs to buy and for its stimulus policy to be sustainable, many analysts say the BOJ will need to further reduce the pace of its bond buying in future.

Former BOJ board member Sayuri Shirai told Reuters on Friday the Bank of Japan should steadily proceed with an "implicit tapering" of its bond purchases as any rise in yields would be temporary.

Shirai said the central bank may temporarily accelerate purchases of JGBs to contain rises in bond yields, but won't have to buy huge amounts to cap yields around its zero percent target.

The BOJ has said it is aiming to increase its bond holdings by about 80 trillion yen a year. But in reality, the pace has been slowing substantially already to below 70 trillion yen by June.

If the current pace of buying continues, the annual increase in its bond portfolio is expected to fall below 60 trillion yen this year.

But Marcel Thieliant, senior Japan economist at Capital Economics in Singapore, said: "We expect U.S. 10-year yields to climb further to 3.0 percent by year-end so chances are that the BOJ will have to conduct additional fixed purchase operations in coming months."

Takuji Okubo, principal and chief economist at Japan Macro Advisors, thinks the impact of Friday's operation may not last long.

"If the global bond market continues to sell off, there will come a time when the BOJ starts to feel it alone cannot hold off the tide any more and it could cause a nasty turbulence," he said.

Additional reporting by Wayne Cole in Sydney, Nichola Saminather in Singapore, Leika Kihara and Liwa Twaronite in Tokyo; Editing by Jacqueline Wong

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