Jul 29, 1:17 AM EDT

Japan central bank adds modest stimulus, as economy coasts

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TOKYO (AP) -- Japan's central bank opted Friday for a modest expansion of its lavish monetary stimulus to help perk up sluggish growth and combat deflation.

The Bank of Japan ended a policy meeting Friday by announcing it will expand purchases of assets from financial institutions to help inject more cash into the world's third-largest economy and pursue its 2 percent inflation target.

But the measures fell short of expectations among many investors for more aggressive action. Ahead of the meeting, speculation had mounted over the possibility for a so-called "helicopter money" approach that would entail more direct infusions of money into the economy.

Recently, the government downgraded its growth forecast for 2016 to 0.9 percent from 1.7 percent.

"With underlying inflation set to moderate further toward the end of the year, we think that the bank will still have to provide more easing before too long," Marcel Thieliant of Capital Economics said in an analysis. "Overall, today's decision was a clear disappointment," he said.

The 7-2 central bank decision was to almost double annual purchases of exchange traded funds, to 6 trillion yen ($57 billion) from the current 3.3 trillion yen. One fifth of that will be earmarked for companies that meet benchmarks for investing in staffing and equipment, it said in a statement.

It also doubled the size of a U.S. dollar lending program to support Japanese companies' operations overseas, to $24 billion.

The BOJ already is injecting about 80 trillion yen ($760 billion) a year into the economy through asset purchases, mainly of Japanese government bonds.

The central bank was under heavy pressure to act after earlier this week Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced 28 trillion yen ($267 billion) in spending initiatives to help support the sagging economic recovery.

The recent vote by Britain to leave the European Union has added to the uncertainties clouding the global outlook at a time when Japan's recovery remains in question.

"There is considerable uncertainty over the outlook for prices against the background of uncertainties surrounding overseas economies and global financial markets," the central bank said.

The central bank did not change the interest it charges on policy-rate balances it holds for commercial banks, which is now at a record low minus 0.1 percent.

Financial markets seemed underwhelmed by the central bank's modest action.

The Nikkei 225 stock index dropped nearly 2 percent but later regained some lost ground, trading 0.7 percent lower by mid-afternoon Friday. The U.S. dollar weakened to 103.10 yen from 104.80 yen late Thursday.

Ahead of the central bank's decision, Japan reported further signs of weakness in its economy in June, with industrial output and consumer spending falling from the year before.

Core inflation excluding volatile food prices dropped 0.5 percent from 0.4 percent in May, while household spending fell 2.2 percent from a year earlier.

Unemployment fell to 3.1 percent in June from 3.2 percent for the past several months. But tightness in the job market has not spilled into significant increases in wages that might help spur more consumer demand and encourage businesses to investment in the short of "virtuous cycle" Abe has been promising since he took office in late 2012.

Still, while industrial output fell 1.9 percent from the year before, it rose 1.9 percent from the month before, with strong shipments related to homebuilding and other construction.


AP Business Writer Elaine Kurtenbach contributed from Bangkok, Thailand.

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