The Bank of Japan kept policy steady on Friday but ditched a timeframe it had set for hitting an inflation target, in a surprise move that may be aimed at keeping market expectations for more stimulus in check.

The Bank of Japan at its policy meeting maintained an optimistic view of the economy but flagged downside risks to the consumer price outlook, underscoring the challenge of eradicating the public's sticky deflationary mindset.

The BOJ maintained a pledge to guide short-term interest rates at minus 0.15 and the 10-year bond yield around zero% by a 8-1 vote. New deputy governor Masazumi Wakatabe, an advocate of huge money printing, voted with the majority, defying some market speculation he could propose topping up stimulus.

In a quarterly review of its projections, the BOJ left its inflation forecast for next fiscal year unchanged from three months ago, at 1.8%.

It also projected inflation of 1.8% for the following fiscal year, underscoring its view a strengthening recovery will sustain price growth toward its 2% target.

However, the BOJ removed a phrase on the timing for achieving its price target in an acknowledgement that meeting the goal was taking more time than expected. The central bank had been forced to push back the timeframe six times due to subdued inflation.

The BOJ's approach to policy communication came into the spotlight late last year, after a series of what the market interpreted as conflicting messages by its central bankers that rattled financial markets.

In the quarterly report on Friday, the BOJ maintained its view the economy was expanding moderately and said its inflation forecasts for the coming years were roughly unchanged from three months ago.

But the central bank added that risks to the inflation outlook were skewed to the downside, as it could take longer than expected for companies to raise wages and translate higher costs to households.

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