BOJ’s Masai urges banks to adapt to ageing population.

Bank of Japan’s (BOJ) new board member Takako Masai attends a news conference at the BOJ headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, June 30, 2016. (Reuters pic)

TOKYO: Bank of Japan board member Takako Masai said on Thursday that discussion of the structural problems making it more difficult for Japanese banks to remain competitive should be separated from monetary policy.

It was important for banks to adjust their businesses in response to Japan’s declining population and the emergence of financial technology, she said in a speech posted on the BOJ’s website.

Masai acknowledged that easy monetary policy had lowered banks’ lending margins but noted that this had been going on since the 1990s.

“Structural problems – which will have an impact on financial institutions’ business environment – and the effects of monetary easing should be analyzed and discussed independently of each other,” she said in the text of the speech.

Upward momentum in prices was intact, she said, arguing the BOJ should stick with its current easing programme.

Masai’s comments may dampen speculation that the BOJ would change its negative interest rate policy or consider allowing long-term rates to rise to ease pressure on banks’ margins.

Under its current framework, the BOJ keeps the interest rate on short-term debt at minus 0.1% and buys up government debt to keep the benchmark 10-year yield around 0%.

Commercial banks have complained that this policy makes it more difficult to earn money from lending, but Masai said the onus was on banks to adapt their business models.

The central bank is likely to cut its price growth forecasts at a policy meeting ending on July 31 as long-term inflation expectations stall, sources told Reuters on Tuesday.

Prices have been “slightly weak” since the BOJ last published forecasts in April, but upward price momentum remains intact, Masai said.

The BOJ has struggled to meet its 2% price target because 15 years of deflation have anchored a deflationary mindset, she said, noting that the belief that deflation should be avoided at all costs is weaker in Japan than other countries.

One risk to the outlook is the government’s plan to raise the national sales tax to 10% from 8% in 2019, although the government plans to find ways to soften the blow, Masai said.