Bernanke Asset Purchases Risk Unleashing 1970s Inflation Genie
Oct. 26 (Bloomberg) -- For the second time since he became chairman in 2006, Ben S. Bernanke is leading the Federal Reserve into uncharted monetary territory.
Bernanke next week is likely to preside over a decision to launch another round of large-scale asset purchases after deploying $1.7 trillion to pull the economy out of the financial crisis, comments from policy makers over the past week indicate. This time, with interest rates already near zero, the Fed will be aiming to increase the rate of inflation and reduce the cost of borrowing in real terms. The goal is to unlock consumer spending and jump-start an economy that’s growing too slowly to push unemployment lower.
Estimates for the ultimate size of the asset-purchase program range from $1 trillion at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch Global Research to $2 trillion at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., with economists at both firms agreeing the Fed will likely start by announcing $500 billion after the Nov. 2-3 meeting. The danger is that once the Fed kindles price increases, inflation will be difficult to control.
“By reducing real interest rates and trying to break the psychology of ‘Why spend today when I can buy goods cheaper tomorrow,’ they are hoping to drive growth that would be more commensurate with a pickup in employment,” said Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co. in New York. “The risk is a late 1970s type of scenario where the inflation genie gets out of the bottle.”
The U.S. Treasury Department yesterday sold $10 billion of five-year Treasury Inflation Protected Securities at a negative yield for the first time at a U.S. debt auction as investors bet the Fed will be successful in sparking inflation. The securities drew a yield of negative 0.55 percent.
William Dudley, president of the New York Fed and vice chairman of the Federal Open Market Committee, yesterday repeated that current levels of inflation and a 9.6 percent unemployment rate are “unacceptable” and said the Fed needs to take action, even though expanding the balance sheet isn’t a “perfect tool.”
“To the extent that we can do things to improve the economic environment, we certainly owe it to the millions of people who are unemployed to do so,” Dudley said in response to audience questions after a speech in Ithaca, New York. Policy makers haven’t yet decided whether to buy additional assets, he said.
A second jolt of monetary stimulus would expand the Fed’s $2.3 trillion balance sheet to a record and likely work through the exchange rate as well as interest rates, said former Fed governor Lyle Gramley. A weaker dollar would boost U.S. exports and push prices higher as the cost of imported goods rises.
“It is a channel that works not only from the standpoint of encouraging more growth and making exports more competitive, but if you’re worried about inflation getting too low, this tends to put a little upward pressure” on it, said Gramley, a senior adviser at Potomac Research Group in Washington.
An index of the dollar versus six major currencies is down 5.2 percent since Sept. 20, the day before Fed officials concluded their last meeting by saying inflation measures were “somewhat below those the Committee judges most consistent, over the longer run, with its mandate to promote maximum employment and price stability.” The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index is up 3.8 percent since then.
A 10 percent decline in the dollar in the first six months of next year would push the economy above estimates of trend growth, moving indicators on inflation and employment more rapidly toward the Fed’s policy goals, according to a simulation run by Macroeconomic Advisers LLC on their model of the U.S. economy.
Effect on GDP
Gross domestic product would rise 1.1 percentage points more than the St. Louis-based firm’s baseline forecast for next year, to 4.8 percent. In 2012, growth of 5.7 percent would exceed the baseline forecast by 1.3 percentage points.
Unemployment would fall to 7 percent by the end of 2012, 1.4 points lower than the firm’s baseline forecast. The consumer price index, minus food and energy, would rise 0.4 percent and 0.7 percent more each year.
A continuing rally in stocks could also provide an added lift to growth, the firm’s simulation showed.
The firm, co-founded by former Fed governor Laurence Meyer, predicts the Wilshire 5000 stock index will jump 14 percent next year and 16 percent in 2012. The index tracks the impact of rising asset prices on household net worth. An additional 10 percent gain in the stock index in the first half of 2011 boosts growth by 0.1 percentage point and 0.3 percentage point more than the firm’s baseline forecast.
“The transmission mechanisms are risk assets and a lower dollar,” said Steven Einhorn, who helps manage $5 billion at hedge fund Omega Advisors Inc. in New York. “Exports will respond over the next six to 12 months, and a further lift in risk assets will have benefits in more consumer spending as it lifts households’ net worth.”
A weaker dollar won’t be welcomed by U.S. trading partners concerned about the danger of competitive devaluations as nations seek to boost exports and growth.
Bernanke received “criticism” at a meeting of Group of 20 central bankers and finance ministers in South Korea last weekend, said German Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle.
“It’s the wrong way to try to prevent or solve problems by adding more liquidity,” Bruederle told reporters. “Excessive, permanent money creation in my opinion is an indirect manipulation of an exchange rate.”
Economists Jan Hatzius at Goldman Sachs and Ethan Harris at Bank of America predict the Fed will spread an initial $500 billion in asset purchases over six months. That is the figure mentioned in the Oct. 1 speech by Dudley, who said $500 billion in purchases could have the same effect as cutting the benchmark federal funds rate by as much as a 0.75 percentage point.
The FOMC’s meeting next week could be contentious, with regional bank presidents such as Charles Plosser of Philadelphia and Richard Fisher of Dallas expressing concern in public remarks about a second round of asset purchases. Neither is a voting member of the FOMC this year.
Plosser told reporters Oct. 20 that high unemployment may not be “amenable to monetary-policy solutions” and added that he was “less inclined to want to follow a policy that is highly concentrated on raising inflation and raising inflation expectations.”
Fisher said central bank officials must be mindful of the effect their actions are having on the dollar.
“We need to be aware of the impact whatever we do has on other variables, and one of the variables is the dollar, the value of the dollar against other currencies,” Fisher said in an Oct. 22 interview in New York.
The prospect of an easier policy for a long period could prompt foreign investors to use Fed purchases as an opportunity to unload longer-term Treasuries, said Vincent Reinhart, former director of the Fed Board’s Division of Monetary Affairs.
“This might put more pressure on the exchange value of the dollar than the Fed is willing to tolerate,” said Reinhart, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
Some commodity prices have already started to move up in anticipation of further Fed stimulus. Gold futures traded on the Comex in New York have risen 22 percent this year to $1,338.90 an ounce, while silver is up 40 percent.
“The Fed would like to talk up as many asset classes as it can,” said Scott Minerd, the Santa Monica-based chief investment officer at Guggenheim Partners LLC, who helps oversee $76 billion.
“The history of the Fed, over the last 20 years, is one of bubble to bubble: one bubble deflates to create another bubble,” Minerd said. “We are certainly heading into the mother of all bubbles with commodities and gold.”
Another danger for the Fed is that its policy fails to have the intended effect, damaging the central bank’s credibility, Reinhart said.
“What happens if they bulk up the portfolio by another $500 billion in the next six months and there is no material change in markets or the outlook,” he said. “Presumably, the Fed will double-down and buy some more, but at some point, people will ask, ‘Is that all there is?’”
U.S. central bankers cut the benchmark lending rate to zero in December 2008. Seeking more stimulus, they launched a $1.7 trillion program to buy mortgage-backed securities, housing agency debt and U.S. Treasuries. The purchases ended in March.
Bernanke told central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in August that those purchases “pushed investors into holding other assets with similar characteristics,” lowering interest rates on a broad range of debt.
While a second round of Treasury purchases would also lower nominal rates, the FOMC has been explicit about the need to lower real interest rates through higher inflation, minutes of its Sept. 21 meeting show.
The personal consumption expenditures price index, minus food and energy, rose at a 1.4 percent annual rate in August. That’s below the Fed’s long-run preference range of 1.7 percent to 2 percent. The year-over-year increase in consumer prices jumped as high as 14.8 percent in 1980 during the administration of Jimmy Carter.
Even moderate rates of inflation can shift wealth through the economy. Companies can make more money because their prices rise faster than wages. Households can also benefit as incomes eventually rise while costs on fixed-rate debt stay the same.
Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. chief financial officer John Hartung told Bloomberg Television Oct. 22 that he expects inflation to be in the low-single to mid-single digits next year. “We would welcome modest inflation along with the continued pickup in consumer demand,” Hartung said.
Zong Qinghou は飲料水製造販売で＄１２０億ドル（１、２兆円規模）の富豪となった。中国の富豪１３６３人の９５％が国内産業で富を築いている。輸出では、５％に過ぎない。しかも、表に出ている数字の２５倍は稼いでいただろうと。つまり、袖の下に使うカネは巨大なのだと。伊勢平次郎 ルイジアナChina's Rich Get Wealthy at Home
By ANDREW PEAPLE
China's economy is frequently criticized for not being oriented enough to domestic consumption. You won't hear that complaint coming from the country's most well-off.
Among the 1,363 individuals worth over $150 million in China, listed by Hurun Report on Tuesday, only 5% have made their fortunes from export-focused businesses. Instead, the richest Chinese are making money from sectors reliant on the Chinese consumer: Zong Qinghou, the head of drinks company Wahaha, heads Hurun's table with a cool $12 billion fortune.
Such entrepreneurs are often able to benefit from the lack of a state-owned monopoly dominating their particular industry. It's no coincidence, either, that some of the sectors represented on the Hurun Report's list, such as food & beverages, IT or pharmaceuticals, are proving attractive to stock analysts right now as well.
European Pressphoto Agency
Zong Qinghou, chairman of Chinese beverage giant Wahaha Group, was listed by Hurun Report as having a fortune worth $12 billion.
.Not only are China's rich getting richer, they're also seemingly ever more out of the reach of mere mortals.
Hurun says there were only six new entrants to the top 100 wealthiest Chinese this year, following only two new faces in 2009. Meanwhile, 12% of the list's members have some form of government advisory post. The Hurun Report follows recent research backed by Credit Suisse estimating that China's wealthiest 10% of households are now 26 times as rich as the bottom 10%, when hidden income such as bribes or backhanders are taken into account.
No wonder wealth inequality is a central concern for China's leaders, now formulating the country's next five-year plan.
Write to Andrew Peaple at email@example.com
China's Liu Xiaobo wins Nobel Peace Prize
Nobel Prize winners: Liu Xiaobo wins Peace Prize
Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident who has spent two decades demanding more freedoms for Chinese citizens, has been named the winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize.
By John Pomfret
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 8, 2010; 5:20 PM
The first citizen of the People's Republic of China to win a Nobel prize was awarded the honor Friday for advocating greater freedom in his country.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee said in a statement that Liu Xiaobo - a prickly, chain-smoking dissident of moderate views - deserved the Nobel Peace Prize because of "his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China." Liu, 54, who is nearing the end of the first year of an 11-year prison sentence for subversion, becomes only the second person to win the peace prize while incarcerated, following German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, who won it in 1935 while jailed by the Nazis.
President Obama, last year's Nobel peace laureate, called on China to release Liu and said the award reminded the world that while "China has made dramatic progress in economic reform and improving the lives of its people, . . . political reform has not kept pace."
Analysts said the honor appeared aimed at pressuring China to ease the crackdown on religious and political activists that has been a hallmark of President Hu Jintao's tenure. China's government denounced the award as "a desecration" and said the honor should have gone to someone focused on promoting international friendship and disarmament.
"Liu Xiaobo is a sentenced criminal who has violated Chinese law," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said, adding that honoring Liu "runs counter to the principles of the Nobel Peace Prize."
Liu's win underscored the limits of China's influence even as the country emerges as a global power. In the run-up to the decision, China warned Norway that selecting Liu would affect mutual ties and dispatched a Foreign Ministry official to Oslo to press its case. The two countries are in the process of negotiating a free-trade deal, and Norway's oil industry - a crucial sector of its economy - wants to boost its business dealings in China. In a sign that it was unwilling to be cowed, however, Norway's government chose to publicize the Beijing official's ostensibly private visit.
The award also highlights another issue facing China as it makes the transition from developed country to superpower. As it has risen, China has lived by a dictum of Deng Xiaoping, the man who opened Communist China to the West: "Hide in the shadows, and focus on building ourselves." But China can no longer "hide in the shadows." It boasts the world's second-largest economy. Its appetites - for iron ore, natural gas and oil - roil markets around the world. Yet with size comes discomfiting scrutiny.
"China has become a big power in economic terms, as well as political terms," observed Thorbjoern Jagland, the Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman, "and it is normal that big powers should be under criticism." China, however, does not view such criticism as normal.
Liu is serving his 11-year sentence at Jinzhou prison in Liaoning, hundreds of miles from his home and from his wife, Liu Xia, in Beijing. In an interview shortly before the announcement, Liu Xia said she was thankful that her husband's physical condition seems to have improved in jail and grateful that he has been allowed to read and exchange regular letters with her.
"We have no regrets," she said. "All of this has been of our choosing. It will always be so. We'll bear the consequences together."
A prize with resonance
Analysts predicted that in the short term, China's one-party state would react to the award by intensifying an already stringent campaign against dissidents, religious activists and nongovernmental organizations. Although China outwardly appears strong, with a world-beating economic growth rate, prosecutions for "state security" offenses are approaching numbers not seen since the bloody crackdown on student-led protests around Tiananmen Square in 1989.
But in the long term, a wide spectrum of Chinese and foreigners said, Liu's award could resonate more deeply within China than any similar act in years - significantly more than the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the Dalai Lama in 1989, say, or the Nobel Prize in Literature given to dissident writer Gao Xingjian in 2000.
In the first place, Liu's status as the first mainland Chinese citizen to win a Nobel prize matters deeply in a nation that craves recognition by the West. (The Dalai Lama - who on Friday urged China to free Liu - has refugee status. Gao is a French citizen. And several Chinese-born physics prize winners, including Daniel Tsui in 1998 and Charles Kao last year, have also taken on other citizenships.)
Second, Liu is profoundly moderate. Unlike the exiled dissident Wei Jingsheng, who criticized Liu on Friday for being too understanding of the Chinese Communist Party, Liu has never advocated revolution. As such, he has escaped the sentence of irrelevance meted out to so many of his dissident contemporaries.
"You can say whatever you want in China today," he said in an interview with The Washington Post in 2002, acknowledging the huge strides made toward personal freedom since economic reforms began in the late 1970s. Then he added: "As long as you do it alone."
'A moth to the flame'
The crime that brought Liu his current, and longest, sentence was volunteering to have his name lead a list of signatories to a manifesto known as Charter 08. Modeled on the Charter 77 movement in Cold War-era Czechoslovakia, Charter 08 called for greater freedom of expression, association, assembly and religion, meaningful elections and a judiciary not controlled by the Communist Party.
To date, more than 8,000 people have signed it.
Published on Dec. 10, 2008, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the charter was intended "to put a stake in the ground and say here's an alternate vision of China," said Perry Link, a renowned China scholar who helped the group translate its manifesto into English. "It was definitely a long-term program."
Link, who spent a month with Liu and others as the manifesto went from one draft to another, recalled that Liu did not start out as a leader of the group. "But once he saw it was going somewhere, he naturally volunteered to be out front," Link said.
Liu didn't hog publicity, Link added. "He just doesn't shrink from putting his head on the line. He was like a moth to the flame."
Liu had taken such risks before. In 1989, he left a comfortable post as a visiting scholar at Columbia University to return to China to participate in demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, after which he was jailed.
After Liu's sentencing last year, his attorney released a simple statement by his client: "I have long been aware that when an independent intellectual stands up to an autocratic state, step one toward freedom is often a step into prison," it said. "Now I am taking that step; and true freedom is that much nearer."
Correspondent William Wan in Beijing contributed to this report.
By LIAM DENNING
Most people don't give the label "Made in China" a second thought.
"Mined in China" would have elicited a shrug, too, until recently. But then Japanese firms reported difficulties importing rare-earth minerals from China during a diplomatic dispute. Suddenly, Japanese ministers, Pentagon hawks and hedge funds all are dusting off their periodic-table charts.
China denies halting exports of exotic metals like yttrium used in applications ranging from wind turbines to fighter jets, but the timing was suspicious. And China, which produces almost all of the world's rare-earth supply, has tightened export quotas this year by 40%, according to Stifel Nicolaus.
Any attempt to curb exports for diplomatic leverage would be risky. Consider Russia's use of natural gas as a diplomatic tool. Disruptions centered on Ukraine woke up European Union ministers to their dependence on Moscow for winter heating. Consequently, the EU focused on diversifying supply, with liquefied natural gas accounting for 14% of consumption last year compared with less than 8% in 2004. Russia's market share fell from 28% to under a quarter.
Similarly, the oil weapon backfired on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. By raising oil prices, and the geopolitical temperature, OPEC encouraged new supply. The cartel has never regained the 51.2% market share it had in 1973, the year of the first embargo.
While China enjoys a market share of nearly 100% in rare earths today, it holds only 36% of known reserves, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Despite the moniker, rare earths aren't that rare; rather, it is hard to find them in high concentrations that make mining them economical. Politically inspired trade restrictions would be a good way of changing that.
バーナンキ連銀議長は、金融緩和にはまだ賛成票が不足と。一方で、NY連銀のタドリー総裁は、“１０％に近い失業率が一向に改善されない～もう一度、金融緩和で不良債権を買い取るべきだ”と。QE（Quantitative Eassing)金融緩和策の行方が大きな話題となってきた。日銀の大型緩和決定に続いて、“FRBは、１１月３日頃に実施するんじゃないか？”と、１０・５（火）のウオール街は湧き上がった。ダウは＄１９７で、＄１１０００ドルに届く距離となった。だが、、伊勢平次郎 ルイジアナBernanke Counters Fed Unity Doubt as Regional Chiefs Echo
Oct. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke is leaving little doubt that he has enough support for more unconventional easing as soon as November.
In one week, New York Fed President William Dudley, the Boston Fed’s Eric Rosengren and Chicago’s Charles Evans advocated further Fed action. Bernanke himself said Oct. 4 that restarting large-scale asset purchases would probably spur growth, after saying last week that the central bank has a duty to aid the economy as U.S. unemployment holds near 10 percent.
Their remarks have overshadowed opposition from policy makers such as Philadelphia’s Charles Plosser, helping the Fed bring down borrowing costs as traders incorporate their expectations into the price of securities, said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York. Two- year Treasury yields this week fell to a record 0.3987 percent.
“The consensus is starting to form around more asset purchases,” Feroli said. “Bernanke doesn’t mind that there’s open public debate, but when the majority does come to a view, he wants the public and the markets to understand what that view is so that the public and the markets can price that in.”
Dudley, vice chairman of the Fed’s policy-setting Open Market Committee and the only regional president with a permanent vote, said Oct. 1 that the outlook for U.S. job growth and inflation is “unacceptable” and that “further action is likely to be warranted unless the economic outlook evolves in a way that makes me more confident.”
Dudley’s speech was “a strong signal” that the FOMC will restart asset purchases at its next meeting on Nov. 2-3, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economist Edward McKelvey said in a report this week.
“As vice chairman of the FOMC, he is one of the three most senior members of the committee,” McKelvey wrote. “He would be highly unlikely to give a speech of this significance without the concurrence of Chairman Bernanke and probably other key members.”
While that doesn’t mean that all the members of the panel are in agreement, “it does strongly suggest that there is sufficient support for additional asset purchases to make it a serious option at the next meeting.”
Michelle Smith, a Fed spokeswoman, declined to comment. The FOMC has 12 members who vote at policy meetings in any given year: seven Washington-based Fed governors, the New York Fed president, and four of the 11 other regional bank presidents. There is one vacancy on the board.
Rate Near Zero
The Fed cut its benchmark interest rate almost to zero at the height of the financial crisis in December 2008 and turned to asset purchases to bring down long-term borrowing costs, eventually buying $1.7 trillion of mortgage-backed securities, agency debt and Treasuries. The purchases ended in March, and the Fed began to lay plans to exit from its unprecedented intervention.
In August, the central bank surprised investors by announcing it would keep its securities holdings unchanged at $2.05 trillion by reinvesting proceeds from mortgage debt into Treasuries, putting the exit on hold.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index tumbled 7.1 percent during the two weeks following the statement on concern the recovery would falter.
At its next meeting on Sept. 21, the FOMC said it was prepared to ease policy “if needed” to spur growth and achieve its dual mandate of stable prices and full employment.
‘A Little Worrisome’
“If we assume they’re going to move in November, they’ve certainly prepped the market more fully and completely than they did in August,” said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Pierpont Securities LLC in Stamford, Connecticut. “It was a little worrisome that it was so abrupt and suggested maybe something dire was going on.”
Additional securities purchases are “partially priced in already,” said Ira Jersey, an interest-rate strategist at Credit Suisse Group AG in New York. “The Federal Reserve is feeling the economy is not strong enough and that they need to give it a boost.”
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note traded near a five- week low yesterday, touching 2.43 percent. Jersey predicts it will drop to 2.25 percent by year-end as the Fed buys more securities.
Lowering long-term interest rates by restarting purchases of Treasuries or mortgage debt would have a “significant” effect on the economy by supporting the value of homes and stocks, making housing and refinancing mortgages more affordable and reducing the cost of capital for businesses, Dudley said last week.
Buying about $500 billion of securities, for example, would add as much stimulus as reducing the Fed’s benchmark rate 0.5 percentage point to 0.75 percentage point, depending on how long investors expect the Fed to hold the assets, according to Dudley.
Brian Sack, head of the New York Fed’s markets desk, echoed Dudley’s remarks in an Oct. 4 speech in Newport Beach, California. Expanding the balance sheet would “likely provide additional accommodation” and help stimulate a recovery that’s forecast to be “relatively tepid,” he said.
“The one side that we hear is very bearish,” said Gregory Habeeb, who manages $8.5 billion in fixed-income assets at Calvert Asset Management Co. in Bethesda, Maryland. Bernanke is “the one who commands the most attention, and he’s giving the one side.”
Positive economic reports could still dissuade policy makers from opting to ease further, said Robert Dye, a senior economist at PNC Financial Services Group Inc. in Pittsburgh.
“I would agree that the likelihood of that occurring has increased, but I would stop there and say it is not a certainty yet,” Dye said. He sees a 60 percent chance the Fed will decide to expand the balance sheet in November.
“It’s going to depend on economic conditions, and if we start to get significantly better data they might decide to hold off,” he said.
Habeeb said the Fed may end up hurting the recovery, not helping, by reinforcing a negative view of the economy that damages business and consumer confidence.
Some regional Fed chiefs have spoken out against more action by the central bank.
Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher said Oct. 1 that it’s “not clear that conditions warrant further crisis-like deployment of the Fed’s arsenal.”
The Philadelphia Fed’s Plosser said Sept. 29 that he doesn’t see how additional asset purchases will help employment in the near term, and Narayana Kocherlakota of Minneapolis said it would probably have a “more muted effect” than the purchases that ended in March. None of the three has a vote on the FOMC this year.
That leaves Kansas City’s Thomas Hoenig, who has already dissented six straight times because he “believed that continuing to express the expectation of exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period was no longer warranted.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Caroline Salas in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Wellisz at email@example.com
Chinese, Japanese leaders meet in Europe amid spat
By SCOTT McDONALD
The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 5, 2010; 12:19 AM
BEIJING -- The Chinese and Japanese prime ministers held an impromptu meeting in a hallway at a conference in Europe, in the highest-level contact between the countries since a bitter territorial dispute erupted a month ago, both governments confirmed Tuesday.
Relations between the Asian neighbors - the world's second- and third-biggest economies - have been strained since a Chinese fishing boat collided with Japanese patrol vessels in early September near the islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by both countries as well as Taiwan.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan met briefly Monday in Brussels, where both were attending the Asia-Europe Meeting and agreed to improve their ties.
"Both parties agreed to strengthen non-governmental exchanges and communications between the governments, and to hold high-level Chinese-Japanese talks at the appropriate time," said a statement posted on the website of the Chinese Foreign Ministry .
Despite the continuing thaw, both sides remained firm on the territorial dispute: The statement said Wen reiterated that the uninhabited islands - called Diaoyu by China and Senkaku by Japan - belong to China, while Japan's Kyodo News agency reported that Kan said they were Japanese territory.
In Tokyo, Kan's office confirmed that the two met for about 25 minutes. Kan was returning to Tokyo on Tuesday after skipping the second day of the summit. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said the two met sitting on chairs in a hallway. The meeting was not on any public schedule.
"Improving relations is good for Asia, for Japan and China, and especially for the global economy," Sengoku told a news conference in Tokyo.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Kan said he and Wen agreed "on the need to return to that starting point and move forward from there," according to public broadcaster NHK.
The collision and Japan's detention of the fishing boat captain plunged relations to their lowest level in five years, although last week ties appeared to be heading back on track.
The crash stirred up nationalism in both countries. Beijing suspended ministerial-level talks with Tokyo and postponed talks on jointly developing undersea gas fields. Japan released the captain, but Beijing shocked Tokyo by demanding an apology.
A thaw began last week when Beijing lifted a de facto export ban on rare earth materials needed in Japan for advanced manufacturing and released three of four Japanese detained for questioning after allegedly entering a restricted military zone in northern China.
Tokyo is pressing China to release the fourth man, who remains under house arrest and is being investigated for illegally videotaping military targets.
The meeting in Brussels may boost bilateral relations before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Yokohama on Nov. 13-14, which Chinese President Hu Jintao will attend.
Associated Press writer Tomoko A. Hosaka in Tokyo contributed to this report.