TOKYO — Japan’s central bank announced a small but perhaps symbolically significant change to its stimulus efforts on Friday, earmarking 300 billion yen a year to purchase shares in companies that expand the economy by investing in their factories or by raising workers’ pay.
Coming just two days after the United States Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate for the first time since the financial crisis, the move emphasized the growing divergence between tighter monetary policy in the United States and the ultra-accommodative stance of Japan. The bank’s governor, Haruhiko Kuroda, said the timing of the two decisions was merely coincidental.
Mr. Kuroda said the $2.4 billion move did not amount to an expansion of monetary policy — the bank’s basic formula for managing the money supply and influencing growth and prices. The central bank, the Bank of Japan, did not change the overall scale of an asset-purchasing program that is its mainstay monetary policy tool.
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Instead, Mr. Kuroda said, the bank wants to refine its existing program, which analysts say has beaten back – but not yet defeated – the deflation that has haunted Japan for two decades.
“The business environment is favorable, but there are still differences in the way companies have responded,” Mr. Kuroda said. “The B.O.J. is doing what it can to support capital spending and investment in human resources.”
By focusing on companies that invest in production and workers, Mr. Kuroda was addressing a stubborn obstacle to his efforts to promote consumption and stoke inflation: Many businesses are defensively hoarding cash rather than injecting it back into the economy. That has kept a lid on wages and prices, forcing the bank to postpone a goal of achieving around 2 percent inflation.
“The B.O.J. is sending the message through the market: Please cooperate,” said Masamichi Adachi, a former central bank official who is now an analyst at JPMorgan Chase.
The central bank also on Friday extended the average maturity of the government bonds it buys from a range of seven to 10 years to seven to 12 years, in what Mr. Kuroda called a “technical” adjustment.
Investors seemed unsure what to make of Friday’s moves, which were less dramatic than others made by Mr. Kuroda since he took over as central bank chief in early 2013. His mandate was to overturn the bank’s previously cautious approach and take it into a “new dimension” of aggressive monetary expansion.
The Nikkei 225 average jumped immediately after the announcement on Friday and the yen fell against the dollar, but both moves were soon reversed. Japanese stocks closed nearly 2 percent lower on the day.
The Bank of Japan already buys ¥3 trillion of equities a year under its existing asset-purchasing program, as well as tens of trillions of yen of government bonds and other financial instruments. That is many times more than it set aside with the new stock-buying program that it announced on Friday and said would begin in April.
And unless the bank raises its target for overall monetary expansion by the time the additional buying starts, it will have to reduce its accumulation of other assets to make room, weakening the effect on financial markets.
“The substance is pretty small, really just fine tuning,” said Ayako Sera, a strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank. “The bank calls its policy qualitative and quantitative easing, and this time the impression is there was a small alteration on the qualitative side.”
Nonetheless, it came as a surprise, Ms. Sera added, because few investors had expected the bank to take any action at all.
The bank has left its policy settings unchanged for months, despite softening prices, to the disappointment of some analysts and investors. Its last major monetary expansion occurred more than a year ago, in October 2014.
Mr. Adachi, of JPMorgan, said that if nothing else, the bank had sent a message that it was still actively looking for new ways to support the economy.
“The B.O.J. doesn’t want markets to conclude that it’s never going to ease again,” he said.
Mr. Kuroda seemed to concede that point at a news conference following the policy announcement. Referring to a view expressed by some critics that the bank had effectively run out of ammunition in its stimulus drive — it is now buying up the majority of the bonds that the government puts on the market — he said, “I don’t believe that qualitative and quantitative easing will reach a limit anytime soon.”
In its announcement, the bank said the new stock-buying initiative would target index funds “composed of stocks issued by firms that are proactively making investment in physical and human capital.”
The program, it said, would start by buying funds that track the JPX-Nikkei Index 400, a relatively new index made up of Japanese companies that are judged to meet high standards of governance and profitability.