QE Party Over, even by the Bank of Japan

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by Wolf Richter, Wolf Street:

First decline in its colossal balance sheet since 2012.

An amazing – or on second thought, given how central banks operate, not so amazing – thing is happening.

On one hand…

Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda keeps saying that the BOJ would “patiently” maintain its ultra-easy monetary policy, so too in his first speech of 2018 in Tokyo, on January 3, when he said the BOJ must continue “patiently” with this monetary policy, though the economy is expanding steadily. The deflationary mindset is not disappearing easily, he said.

On December 20, following the decision by the BOJ to keep its short-term interest-rate target at negative -0.1% and the 10-year bond yield target just above 0%, he’d brushed off criticism that this prolonged easing could destabilize Japan’s banking system. “Our most important goal is to achieve our 2% inflation target at the earliest date possible,” he said.

On the other hand…

In reality, after years of blistering asset purchases, the Bank of Japan disclosed today that total assets on its balance sheet actually inched down by ¥444 billion ($3.9 billion) from the end of November to ¥521.416 trillion on December 31. While small, it was the first month-end to month-end decline since the Abenomics-designed “QQE” kicked off in late 2012.

Under “QQE” – so huge that the BOJ called it Qualitative and Quantitative Easing to distinguish it from mere “QE” as practiced by the Fed at the time – the BOJ has been buying Japanese Government Bonds (JGBs), corporate bonds, Japanese REITs, and equity ETFs, leading to astounding month-end to month-end surges in the balance sheet. But now the “QQE Unwind” has commenced. Note the trend over the past 12 months and the first dip (red):

JGBs, the largest asset class on the BOJ’s balance sheet, fell by ¥2.9 trillion ($25 billion) from November 30 to ¥440.67 trillion on December 31. In other words, the BOJ has started to unload JGBs – probably by letting them mature without replacement, rather than selling them outright.

Some other asset classes on its balance sheet increased, including equity ETFs, Japanese REITs, “Loans,” and “Others”

On net, and from a distance, the first decrease of the BOJ’s assets in the era of Abenomics was barely noticeable. Total assets are still a massive pile, amounting to about 96% of Japan’s GDP (the Fed’s balance sheet amounts to about 23% of US GDP):

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