BoJ chief warns over 'likely' delay on inflation target

Japanese consumers are still not spending as much as economic managers want them to, reducing inflation expectations again in a coumntry that has suffered more than two decades of stagnant or falling prices

Japan's central bank chief warned on Thursday it is "likely" that an inflation target already running four years late would be delayed once again.

Bank of Japan (BoJ) governor Haruhiko Kuroda added that policymakers would not slow down their monetary easing programme until their two-percent goal had been achieved.

"It's likely that the timing of exceeding two percent inflation in a stable manner will be later than" March 2019, Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda told reporters Thursday.

The figure is seen as crucial to ending years of deflation and putting Japan's torpid economy on a stable path.

Kuroda's comments come as the US central bank raises interest rates while speculation swirls that the European Central Bank is considering backing off its own stimulus by turning off the taps on massive bond-buying or raising borrowing costs from historic lows.

The BoJ -- which trimmed its annual inflation forecast Thursday after a two-day meeting -- had already been forced to push back its price target several times, having set an original date of March 2015.

"Governor Kuroda poured cold water on expectations of tighter policy in the post-meeting press conference," research house Capital Economics said in a commentary.

"Today's downward forecast adjustment highlights that the Bank is still struggling to lift inflation

"What's more, we believe that the Bank remains too optimistic about inflation," it added.

Policymakers on Thursday lowered their inflation forecast to 1.4 percent for the fiscal year to March 2018 from an earlier estimate of 1.5 percent.

After wrapping up its meeting Thursday, the bank kept monetary policy unchanged and issued a relatively upbeat view on the world's number three economy, slightly upgrading its annual growth outlook.

The BoJ raised its economic growth forecast for the current fiscal year to 1.6 percent from 1.5 percent earlier.

It also left its massive 80 trillion yen ($719 billion) annual asset-purchase scheme unchanged and said it would press on with a plan to keep the yield on government 10-year bonds around zero.

Both measures are central to the bank's efforts to hike consumer prices and stimulate the economy.

This month, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) raised its growth forecast for Japan's economy this year and next, citing a pickup in exports, but it warned that a shrinking labour force and below-forecast inflation would curb longer-term expansion.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe swept to power in late 2012 on a pledge to conquer deflation and create a lasting recovery through a growth plan dubbed Abenomics.

The scheme -- a mix of aggressive monetary easing and huge government spending along with reforms to the economy -- stoked a stock market rally as it weakened the yen and fattened corporate profits.

But its effect on the wider economy has been less dramatic, with promised reforms slow in coming.