The ECB Announces Interest Rates Today—Here's What You Need To Know

Mario Draghi ECB governing council board

Photo: ECB

At 7:45 AM ET, the ECB announces its monthly policy decision regarding interest rates, followed by a press conference and Q&A session at 8:30.Citi economist Jürgen Michels notes that today’s meeting marks ECB chief Mario Draghi’s one-year anniversary at the helm of the central bank.

Yesterday, Draghi sent markets reeling and the euro diving following the dovish tone he struck at a speech in Germany in which he acknowledged for the first time that the euro crisis was infecting the German economy.

That could set the stage for an interesting discussion at the press conference today.

In terms of actual action, though, BofA Merrill Lynch economist Laurence Boone and strategists Ralf Preusser and Athanasios Vamvakidis do not expect much from today’s meeting:

There are a number of ways in which the ECB could ease monetary policy further, but we doubt we will see much movement in either direction until the OMT has been tested. Lower rates are a possibility given that funding costs for banks in Southern Europe remain high following the OMT announcement.

However, this would require the ECB to make a further downward adjustment to its GDP growth forecast, while inflation would have to weaken further below the 2% threshold in the medium term (our own projection is for inflation to persist above 2% until year- end 2013). We would not expect such an outcome before year-end.

Regarding liquidity, unconventional provision or purchases, the cons are larger than the pros in our view, as long as OMT remains a pending toolbox. Clearly, the ECB has decided to avoid purchases and would rather lend. On liquidity, funding issues are concentrated in some banks, thus being a matter for collateral policy rather than large LTROs.

The outlook leads the BofA team to conclude that today’s ECB meeting will likely be a “non-event” for the euro, unless Draghi continues to strike a dovish tone, similar to his speech yesterday:

The ECB meeting should be a non-event for the Euro, as we do not expect a rate cut or any other form of easing, but we see the risks slightly to the downside from dovish language.

Draghi could repeat some of his dovish comments from his testimony to the Bundestag and his concerns about deflation in parts of the Eurozone.

The perceived lack of progress on actually deploying the OMT is also likely to be part of the press conference, with a likely emphasis on conditionality that could be EUR negative.

Citi’s Michels and his team explain why the big December meeting on the horizon will keep the ECB at bay today:

A new record high [eurozone] unemployment rate of 11.6% plus more signs of weakness of the German economy, probably will lead the Governing Council to express doubts about its current outlook for weak (but positive) economic growth…However, one month before the publication of the new staff projections in December, the Governing Council is unlikely to change its economic outlook, which could back a rate cut in December.

By leaning towards a weaker economic outlook, the Governing Council might start to question the so far broadly balanced risks for the medium-term inflation outlook. A recent remark by President Draghi in his speech to German MPs on 24 October – “In our assessment, the greater risk to price stability is currently falling prices in some euro area countries” suggests that the ECB is getting more concerned about undershooting its inflation target (below, but close to 2%) once the tax induced one-off effects on inflation peter out.

In that respect, the Eurosystem staff projections for inflation for 2014 — which will be presented for the first time in December — will be of particular interest. Note that the existing staff mid-point forecast for 2013 of 1.9% is in line with the ECB inflation target.

Morgan Stanley economist Elga Bartsch agrees that little is expected today ahead of the December meeting, but will also be reading the tea leaves:

Incoming data both on economic activity and bank lending support our out of consensus call for a 25 bp reduction in all three ECB policy rates at the December meeting. This Thursday, when we don’t expect any tangible policy action from the ECB, we will be watching for any signs that the ECB policy stance is shifting.

We think that the ECB is too optimistic on growth and expect the staff to revise down their projections again in December. This downward revision, and muted inflation forecasts out to 2014, should pave the way for a rate cut in December. Less than one bp of easing is priced into the market for that meeting. Furthermore, the rate reduction should also apply to the deposit rate, taking it into negative territory for the first time in ECB history.

We will have the interest rate decision at 7:45 AM ET and will be covering the press conference LIVE at 8:30. Follow the release on Money Game >

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