Economic Outlook: Banks without backup

By ANTHONY HALL, United Press International   |   Sept. 19, 2012 at 10:23 AM
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The Bank of Japan said Wednesday it would extend an asset purchasing program, following the U.S. Federal Reserve's example.

The Fed said last week it would buy $85 billion in securities per month at least through the end of the year.

The move gave stocks a bounce, even though the amount of purchases was far less than the second round of quantitative easing that began in the fall of 2010.

In Japan, at least one analyst said the $126 billion in purchases announced by Bank of Japan lacked conviction, The New York Times reported.

"The measures taken were bolder than I had expected. The government welcomes this decision to more drastically ease monetary policy," said Finance Minister Jun Azumi.

But not everyone felt the bank was putting much firepower behind the program. "The basic point remains with this easing as we have seen before -- too little, too late," said analysts at ING in a research note.

Japan has a political scene that mirrors the situation in the United States, as well.

For one, the Bank of Japan has set its key interest rate at zero to 0.1 percent, close to the U.S. central banks federal fund rate of zero to 0.25 percent.

Similar to political stonewalling in Washington that resulted in ratings firm Standard & Poor's lowering the U.S. credit rating in August 2011, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has been forced to hold off on public spending as Parliament has refused to allow the government to issue bonds that finance the public debt.

In Washington, until the 11th hour, Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling, which allows the government to keep borrowing and to pay its bills.

But Japan's economy is on "losing steam much more rapidly and sharply than we expected," Masamichi Adachi, an economist at JPMorgan Securities Japan, wrote in a research note that said "the possibility of recession cannot be ruled out, especially if recovery of global demand in the coming quarters fails to materialize."

And there's the rub. Consumers in the United States are not in much of a spending mood, in part because European consumers are not in a spending mood.

Stock markets in Japan rose on the announcement, but without customers spending money, there is little the country's central bank can do, except ease the pain. Quantitative easing is not a political fix and there is too much broken in the United States and Japan for a central bank to take on the entire burden of recovery by itself.

In international markets the Nikkei 225 index in Japan gained 1.19 percent, while the Shanghai composite index in China rose 0.4 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong added 1.16 percent, while the Sensex in India lost 0.25 percent.

The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia climbed 0.54 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index in Britain was flat, falling 0.04 percent, while the DAX 30 in Germany was up 0.07 percent. The CAC 40 in France slipped 0.05 percent, while the Stoxx Europe 600 added 0.05 percent.

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