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MNI (London)
--As Caution Grows, BOJ Look Set To Lower Inflation Forecast
--Japan Core CPI Rise Slower Than Expected In Dec, Up 0.7% Y/Y
By Hiroshi Inoue
     TOKYO (MNI) - The Bank of Japan is increasingly concerned that momentum
toward achieving its 2% price target is slowing after data released Friday
showed core consumer prices slowing faster than expected, MNI understands.
     The inflation rate remains stubbornly slow in responding to a sustainable
economic expansion and tight labor market conditions and the BOJ board look set
to lower their October median inflation forecasts of 1.4% in fiscal 2019 and
1.5% in 2020. 
     However, although concern is growing, the the board will likely keep the
view that there is still momentum toward hitting the 2% price target.
     Japan average core CPI rose 0.7% on year in December, the 24th straight
year-on-year rise, but the pace slowed from +0.9% in November and was weaker
than the MNI median forecast of +0.8%.
     --EXPECTATIONS
     Although a slowdown in the inflation rate was somewhat expected by BOJ
officials, their attention now turns to whether weaker consumer prices puts
downward pressure on medium- to long-term inflation expectations.
     BOJ officials maintain the overall view that momentum toward achieving the
2% price target is maintained, as tight labor market conditions and the positive
output gap continue, although at a slower pace than conditions would imply.
     Those officials are now focused on developments for both the output gap and
inflation expectations, which, they believe, determine the momentum toward the
2% stability target. 
     The next key data for them to study is the Tokyo CPI for January, due out
on Jan. 25, two days after their next policy meeting ends.
     --MIXED SIGNALS
     The slowing December rise was due in part to a drop in the positive
contribution from energy prices on CPI and BOJ economists expect the positive
contribution from energy price to continue falling, which in turn will increase
downward pressure on consumer prices.
     December's positive contribution from energy prices was 0.45 percentage
point, down from 0.61 percentage point in November.
     There were some bright spots in the latest data, with BOJ officials upbeat
about the continued solid prices for eating out, as upward pressure on service
prices stemming from labor shortages continued in December. However, there was
some caution that they haven't accelerated and spread.
     Prices for eating out rose 1.1% on year in December, unchanged from
November.
     However, prices for goods excluding fresh food rose 0.7% on year in
December, slowing from 0.9% in November, indicating that firms' remain cautious
over raising their retail prices.
     The prices for processed food (canned food, bread, snacks, beverages, etc),
which accounts for 15% of the total CPI and is focused on by BOJ economists,
rose 0.5% on year in December, slowing from +0.8% in November.
--MNI London Bureau; tel: +44 203-586-2225; email: les.commons@marketnews.com
--MNI Tokyo Bureau; tel: +81 90-2175-0040; email: hiroshi.inoue@marketnews.com
[TOPICS: MMJBJI,MAJDS$,MMJBJ$,M$A$$$,M$J$$$,MT$$$$,MX$$$$]
MNI London Bureau | +44 203-865-3812 | les.commons@marketnews.com