It’s ECB day, meaning that this afternoon we’ll get the European Central Bank’s latest decisions on interest rates and fiscal stimulus, as well as hearing from president Mario Draghi.
The bank will more than likely leave rates and QE programmes untouched, having well and truly fired the bazooka at its last meeting in March, cutting all of its base rates, as well as expanding its bond buying programme to include corporate debt.
At the moment, the bank’s base deposit rate is minus 0.4%, meaning banks have to pay money to leave deposits with the ECB — something it hopes will stir the big lenders to pump money into the economy, rather than keep it back and reduce their own deposit rates, forcing savers to go out and spend or invest their money.
While it would be a huge shock if that changed today, markets will still be listening devotedly to hear what Draghi has to say about any further easing or rate cuts in the near future, and the general economic picture in the eurozone, when he speaks in Frankfurt at 12:30 p.m. CET (1:30 p.m. BST; 8:30 a.m. ET). Draghi is likely to reiterate the ECB’s stance that it still has plenty of ammunition left to deal with sluggish growth and inflation.
Along with rates and bond buying, Draghi will likely have to focus on a wide variety of issues including:
- Concerns about the eurozone and global economies: While most indicators in Europe are pointing to a modest upswing in the continent’s economic fortunes, there are still concerns about global and European growth, which Draghi will be expected to address.
- Criticism from Germany: German officials, particularly finance minister Wolfgang Schauble, have criticised the ECB’s stimulus measures in recent weeks, questioning its independence, and even, at one point, blaming ECB policies for helping the rise of the right-wing Alternative for Germany party. Draghi will likely move to reiterate the ECB’s total independence from politics.
- Worries about the banking sector: Concerns about the ability of the banking sector to cope with a persistent sub-zero interest rate climate are rife, and Draghi may have to try and soothe those concerns. There may be a particular focus on Italy, where a €5 billion fund has been set up to help solve problems in the country’s weakest banks.
- Helicopter money: Discussions about the use of so-called helicopter money, which involves creating new money and giving it directly to people to spend on whatever they want, are becoming more frequent, and Draghi will likely be pressed on whether its a realistic option. Earlier in the week, Bank of England governor Mark Carney, distanced the bank from the policy, and said that introducing helicopter money could lead to “a compounded ponzi scheme.”
As expected, analysts from across the financial sector have been giving their predictions for what will happen in Frankfurt this afternoon, and while the consensus is that rates will stay put, there are still some interesting insights as to what might happen out there:
Mike van Dulken from Accendo Markets says: “The big event of the day however will be the ECB policy update and while no change to rates or QE are expected President Draghi may have another go at some forward guidance to talk the EUR down in his press conference. Maybe he’ll be more successful than he was last month.”
Ilya Spivak, a currency strategist at forex firm Daily FX says: “Today’s meeting offers Draghi an opportunity to formally clarify forward guidance. If he uses it to unambiguously assert that the ECB is well-armed to deliver greater easing and is prepared to do it on short notice if necessary, the Euro is likely to weaken. Risk appetite may also improve, sending the Australian, Canadian and New Zealand Dollars higher alongside stock prices. The absence of a forceful dovish message may leave investors disappointed however, triggering the opposite results.”
While Deutsche Bank’s Jim Reid thinks the focus will be on corporate bond buying: “Perhaps of most interest to us today will be evidence of any logistical progress on the corporate bond purchasing program (CSPP). Since the announcement date details for the program have been thin with the hope that today will bring greater clarity around the potential size, split between primary and secondary markets and the finer details around bond eligibility. It might still be too early to hear much though.”
Finally, here’s what Dutch bank Rabobank has to say: “Our ECB watcher Elwin de Groot expects no new policy announcements but does think that President Draghi will emphasise that several easing measures are still in the pipeline. Elwin continues to think that an additional 10bp cut to the deposit rate is still a realistic and probable follow-up to these measures if the economic environment does not pick-up. However, we wouldn’t expect such a cut to be made until September at the earliest.”