Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

Japan Inflation Seen Peaking This Fall, Economists Say

  • Citigroup, Barclays expect inflation to start to weaken soon
  • Energy prices have been driving up Japan’s consumer prices

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An increasing number of economists forecast that Japan’s consumer prices will not only fail to meet Bank of Japan’s target, but that they will peak as soon as this autumn, in stark contrast with the view from Governor Haruhiko Kuroda and his policy board.

Inflation will top out at 0.8 percent in the fourth quarter of this year, according to the median projection compiled by Bloomberg. With energy prices expected to be flat, some analysts see that coming even earlier.

In its crusade to raise prices, the BOJ has kept interest rates near zero for almost 10 years and has been buying bonds since 2010 in the current easing cycle. Kuroda doubled down on monetary stimulus in 2013 in an attempt to jump-start inflation. If after all that time, inflation peters out at less than half the target level, it may raise the question of whether the BOJ has reached the limit of what’s achievable.

Core inflation may only go as high as 0.8 percent this autumn, according to Yoshiki Shinke, the only economist to make the Japan Center for Economic Research’s top-five list of forecasters for the past eight years. With prices of almost everything except energy flat, inflation will level out and may even slow again next year, he wrote in a research report last week.

"Achieving 2 percent inflation is of course impossible, and it’s even going to be very difficult for core prices to rise faster in fiscal 2018," he wrote. The BOJ is forecasting CPI will accelerate over the next three years.

Shinke isn’t alone. Barclays Plc. predicts the consumer price gauge will peak after increasing to 0.8 percent in September. Citigroup Inc. expects it will stay at 0.7 percent from September to November and then start “renewed moderation.”

The BOJ is known for its bullish price forecasts and even though it cut them last month, it kept the view that inflation will head toward its 2 percent target. The central bank now expects to hit that goal around the year starting in April 2019, well after Kuroda’s term ends in April next year.

Kuroda has said BOJ’s forecast is higher than private economists probably because it counts stronger effects of the output gap and inflation expectations.

The BOJ isn’t alone in struggling with weak inflation. The Federal Reserve still says it will carefully monitor inflation development as it’s below target, while the European Central Bank’s president indicated he’s in no rush to exit from stimulus with prices not rising as fast as they should be.

(Corrects time axis of third chart.)
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