ECB won’t raise rates until at least mid-2020
The European Central Bank yesterday signalled that it would not raise interest rates until the first half of 2020.
That compares to a previous guidance that pointed to a rate rise towards the end of this year – something that, in itself, was a delay on its previous plans.
The decision comes as the euro zone’s lacklustre economic recovery faces new headwinds – including China’s slowdown and transatlantic trade tensions.
“Over the last three to four weeks we’re beginning to see central banks across the world decide that they need to support the global economy more,” said Niall Dineen, chief investment officer with Appian Asset Management.
“We’re see rate cuts out of Australia and New Zealand and we’re seeing the Federal Reserve in the US talk about cutting rates as well. So I don’t think it’ll be a huge surprise that we’ve seen the ECB getting on board with everybody else,” Mr Dineen said.
This is a marked turn around from 12 months ago, when most central banks were moving rates upwards and the ECB was poised to follow suit.
According to Mr Dineen a number of factors, but particularly those around global trade, are weighing on economic performance.
“I think the reality is that the trade war rhetoric that we’ve been listening to over the past twelve months has had a real impact on the global economy,” he said.
“There is also weakness in China. There’s a real risk that parts of the Chinese economy could be in a recession and a lot of this is dragging down economic growth numbers across the globe,” he added.
That is prompting central banks to look again at offering supports to economies – rather than trying to take the heat out of markets with rate rises.
The problem for the ECB is that its interest rate remains at zero – while it already has trillions of euro of bonds on its balance sheet from the recently-completed round of quantitative easing. That leaves it with limited scope for further stimulus measures should the euro zone economy require it.
“Central banks will argue that they can always do more on the rate side in terms of forcing banks to lend, or they can do more quantitative easing,” Mr Dineen said.
“But maybe the reality is that the next part of support for the economy has to come from governments and has to come from fiscal spending – maybe that’s the thing that’s been lacking in this cycle. We have to get away from this idea that it’s always going to be central banks that provide this support,” he stated.
The support Europe’s central bank may be willing to offer could also hinge on the person at the helm, as Mario Draghi is due to step down at the end of October. His successor could set a different tone for the authority following what has been a prolonged period of accommodation.
“We have to recognise how positive Draghi has been for Europe,” Mr Dineen said. “He has put the ECB front and centre of keeping the euro zone together as it went through its own crisis and keeping the stimulus measures in place.
“Is there a risk that if we get, maybe, a German head of the central bank that the underlying philosophy will change? I think it’s a small risk – I don’t think it’s a huge risk,” he stated.
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