TOKYO - The Japanese government plans to unveil a new economic stimulus package worth more than 2 percent of GDP on Friday, the finance minister said, doubling such spending as the country grapples with its worst recession since World War Two.
The new package will add around $100 billion to spending already planned under previously announced stimulus measures, raising the total to around 4 percent of GDP, and comes as Bank of Japan policymakers debate the need to do more to support the flagging economy at a two-day review ending on Tuesday.
"The prime minister has instructed us to compile measures that would include real spending of more than 2 percent of GDP as we take into account a fall in our economy, which is bigger than that in other leading nations, as well as the need for international cooperation," Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano told reporters on Monday.
Among the steps to be included are the creation of a safety net for workers who do not have the status of "permanent" staff, measures to help corporate financing, and increased spending on solar power systems, he said.
Yosano did not explain how the new spending will be funded, saying there was no discussion on issuance of new bonds in his meeting with Prime Minister Taro Aso on Monday.
Worries about looming supply of debt bonds to pay for stimulus have pushed yields on the main 10-year Japanese government bond up to 1.460 percent from a five-year low of 1.155 percent in December.
"As there have been calls for increased government spending to offset the gap between falling demand and excessive supply, the amount of stimulus spending could rise further," said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.
"Until there is a clearer idea of how the new stimulus package will impact government debt, market players will remain cautious about buying bonds."
Tokyo already plans to issue 33 trillion yen ($327.5 billion) in new bonds to fund its biggest-ever budget for the fiscal year that began on April 1, which does not include the new stimulus.
The country's public debt is already the worst among industrial nations at 158 percent of gross domestic product.
Japan's economy shrank 3.2 percent in October-December, the fastest pace since the 1974 oil crisis. It is likely to keep shrinking in the first half of this year, economists say, reaching a record five quarters of contraction.
Eyes Municipal Bonds
Against the backdrop of business confidence crumbling to a new low and small firms struggling due to tight credit, the BOJ may expand the type of municipal bonds it accepts as collateral in market operations, the Nikkei business daily reported.
Regional banks are hard-pressed as a deepening recession pushes many small companies into bankruptcy, and analysts say such a move could help them raise money more easily and boost lending to such customers.
The BOJ currently accepts only publicly placed municipal bonds as collateral but could expand that to include such bonds issued privately to financial institutions, the newspaper said without citing sources.
"Regional banks may not hold a lot of government bonds that they could use as collateral, but they do tend to hold a lot of municipal bonds," said Hirokata Kusaba, a senior economist at Mizuho Research Institute.
"This is a policy designed to improve liquidity at smaller banks and I'm sure they would welcome it. It could be seen as a pre-emptive measure the BOJ is considering just in case credit markets start to tighten again around the corporate earnings season."
Privately placed municipal bonds, issued by regional governments and held mostly by regional banks, have been excluded as collateral in market operations due to their low liquidity.
Adding such bonds to the list of collateral the BOJ accepts would be regarded as tinkering on the margins rather than a drastic move to flood the banking system with liquidity.
The BOJ is expected to keep its key interest rate on hold at 0.1 percent but could discuss what more it can do in future as business confidence slumps to record lows.
The central bank has already started buying commercial paper and corporate bonds from banks to prompt them to lend more. While these steps have eased funding for big firms, many smaller firms remain cash-strapped as banks hesitate to take on risk.
"We hope the BOJ continues to support the economy through monetary policy," Kazuyuki Sugimoto, the finance ministry's top bureaucrat, told reporters on Monday in an apparent call for more central bank action.