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Business News/ Economy / ECB Policy Verdict: At 4%, key interest rates held at all-time high for fifth straight meeting, cuts likely ahead
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ECB Policy Verdict: At 4%, key interest rates held at all-time high for fifth straight meeting, cuts likely ahead

ECB held interest rates steady for a fifth meeting, while sending its clearest signal yet that cooling inflation will soon allow it to commence cuts.

European Central Bank (ECB) left the deposit rate at a record-high of four per cent for the fifth straight meetingPremium
European Central Bank (ECB) left the deposit rate at a record-high of four per cent for the fifth straight meeting

The European Central Bank (ECB) held interest rates steady for a fifth meeting, while sending its clearest signal yet that cooling inflation will soon allow it to commence cuts. The deposit rate was left at a record-high four per cent, as overwhelmingly predicted by a Bloomberg poll in which only one of 62 economists saw a decrease. But the Governing Council added wording to its accompanying statement flagging a reduction, should updated economic forecasts in June signal sufficient space to do so. 

“If the Governing Council’s updated assessment of the inflation outlook, the dynamics of underlying inflation and the strength of monetary policy transmission were to further increase its confidence that inflation is converging to the target in a sustained manner, it would be appropriate to reduce the current level of monetary policy restriction," the ECB said Thursday.

Also Read: In Rare Makeover, European Central Bank Moves to Reduce Its Financial Footprint

It said it would remain data-dependent and isn’t “pre-committing to a particular rate path." Money markets held bets on monetary easing in 2024 roughly steady, with three quarter-point rate cuts priced in. The euro fell to its lowest level since February, down 0.3 per cent at $1.0715.

Emboldened by fading inflation across the 20-nation euro area, the ECB is zeroing in on a first rate cut since 2019 at its next meeting in June. Other central banks are less certain, with another overshoot in US consumer prices for March fueling bets that the Federal Reserve will have to wait longer to start loosening monetary policy.

There are few such concerns for the ECB, which saw inflation fall a touch short of estimates last month, at 2.4 per cent. While underlying pressures remain elevated and services costs are still rising by four per cent, figures due in the coming weeks may confirm a moderation in the wage gains that are driving such stickiness.

President Christine Lagarde will hold a news conference at 2:45 p.m. in Frankfurt to elaborate on this week’s decisions. Lagarde said last month that if core inflation — which excludes volatile items like food and energy costs — continues to behave as forecast, officials may be able to move into the “dialing-back phase of our policy cycle and make policy less restrictive."

The would come as a relief for the region’s economy, which has barely registered any growth for more than a year. The latest warning came this week as the ECB’s quarterly lending survey revealed an unexpected slump in corporate loan demand at the start of 2024 — damping expectations of an imminent recovery in output.

Also Read: Europe’s economy is under attack from all sides

A separate poll showed companies expect wage growth to abate over the next 12 months, with economists at Goldman Sachs predicting a significant slowdown in the second half of this year. Such projections are feeding into the debate around what happens beyond June. 

Some of the Governing Council’s dovish members appear to want a another reduction in rates to follow quickly, at July’s meeting. Others are more cautious, suggesting moves every quarter, when economic projections are updated.

Indeed, analysts polled by Bloomberg before the ECB’s decision lean toward such a timetable, foreseeing three cuts this year — in June, September and in December. That may prove optimistic, according to Allianz Chief Economist Ludovic Subran, who said earlier Thursday that policymakers will have to be “very gradual."

“Much more vibrant energy markets could mean that the ECB is maybe allowed to cut once this year and that would be also quite a drag when you look at growth forecasts," he told Bloomberg Television. “There is this hypothesis of a rebound on real income on the second half that would be completely annihilated should we have another energy shock."

 

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Published: 11 Apr 2024, 06:39 PM IST
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