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Bank of Japan Cuts Rate to 0.3% to Fend Off Prolonged Recession

Oct. 31 (Bloomberg) — The Bank of Japan cut its benchmark interest rate to 0.3 percent in a split decision to help stave off a prolonged recession.

Governor Masaaki Shirakawa cast the deciding vote to lower the key overnight lending rate from 0.5 percent after four of the eight board members dissented, the central bank said in Tokyo today. Three wanted to cut the rate to 0.25 percent, and one voted to leave it unchanged, Shirakawa said.

Shirakawa, 59, came under pressure to lower borrowing costs for the first time in seven years after the Nikkei 225 Stock Average slumped to the lowest level since 1982 on concern that the global financial rout would deepen Japan’s downturn. Until today, the bank had kept rates unchanged in the face of cuts by counterparts worldwide, arguing they were already “very low.”

“A rate cut will probably do little to prop up the economy; nevertheless the bank was probably fearful they’d be viewed as clinging to an overly rigid stance in the middle of a global crisis” if they didn’t move, said Teizo Taya, a former Bank of Japan board member who now advises the Daiwa Institute of Research.

The yen rose to 96.87 per dollar at 5:54 p.m. in Tokyo, from 98.43 before the decision. Japan’s currency climbed as high as 90.93 a week ago, the strongest in 13 years, threatening exporters’ earnings. The Nikkei plunged 5 percent today, capping a record 24 percent monthly decline.

The central bank slashed its growth forecast for the year ending March to 0.1 percent from 1.2 percent predicted in July. The economy will expand 0.6 percent next fiscal year and 1.7 percent in the period starting April 2010, it said in a twice- yearly outlook published after the rate decision.

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