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Defying Gravity: How Long Will Japanese Government Bond Prices Remain High?

  • Takeo Hoshi
  • Takatoshi Ito

Recent academic papers have shown that the Japanese sovereign debt situation is not sustainable. The puzzle is that the bond rate has remained low and stable. Some suggest that the low yield can be explained by domestic residents' willingness to hold Japanese government bonds (JGBs) despite its low return, and that as long as domestic residents remain home-biased, the JGBs are sustainable. About 95% of JGBs are currently owned by domestic residents. This paper argues that even with such dominance of domestic investors, if the amount of government debt breaches the ceiling imposed by the domestic private sector financial assets, the JGB rates can rapidly rise and the Japanese government can face difficulty rolling over the existing debt. A simulation is conducted on future paths of household saving and fiscal situations to show that the ceiling would be breached in the next 10 years or so without a drastic fiscal consolidation. This paper also shows that the government debt can be kept under the ceiling with sufficiently large tax increases. The JGB yields can rise even before the ceiling is hit, if the expectation of such drastic fiscal consolidation disappears. This paper points out several possible triggers for such a change in expectation. However, downgrading of JGBs by credit rating agencies is not likely to be a trigger, since past downgrades have not produced any change in the JGB yield. If and when the JGB rates rapidly rise, the Japanese financial institutions that hold a large amount of JGBs will sustain losses and the economy will suffer from fiscal austerity, financial instability, and inflation.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18287.

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Date of creation: Aug 2012
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as “Defying Gravity: Can Japanese sovereign debt continue to increase without a crisis?” (Joint with Takatoshi Ito) Economic Policy, January 2014, 5-44.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18287
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  1. Francesco Caselli, 1998. "Fiscal Discipline and the Cost of Public Debt Service; Some Estimates for OECD Countries," IMF Working Papers 98/55, International Monetary Fund.
  2. Doi, Takero & Hoshi, Takeo & Okimoto, Tatsuyoshi, 2011. "Japanese government debt and sustainability of fiscal policy," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 25(4), pages 414-433.
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  7. Takero Doi & Takeo Hoshi, 2002. "Paying for the FILP," NBER Working Papers 9385, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    • Takero Doi & Takeo Hoshi, 2003. "Paying for the FILP," NBER Chapters, in: Structural Impediments to Growth in Japan, pages 37-70 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Takao KOMINE & Shigesaburo KABE, 2009. "Long-term Forecast of the Demographic Transition in Japan and Asia," Asian Economic Policy Review, Japan Center for Economic Research, vol. 4(1), pages 19-38.
  9. Magnus Blomström & Jennifer Corbett & Fumio Hayashi & Anil Kashyap, 2003. "Structural Impediments to Growth in Japan," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number blom03-1, September.
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