Michael Steen

Not the ECB (Getty)

The Bundesbank has weighed in on what forward guidance means for the European Central Bank and if you want the short version it boils down to: we have not forgotten about inflation.

The ECB pledged in July to keep interest rates at or below current levels “for an extended period of time,” which, as we’ve noted before has caused some confusion as to what precisely it means.

According to Germany’s central bank, that promise does not actually mean that interest rates cannot rise or that they will necessarily remain low for a long time. As it writes in its latest monthly report:

The decisive point in correctly interpreting this statement is that it is conditional on the unchanged obligation of the Eurosystem [the ECB and the eurozone’s 17 national central banks] towards its mandate of maintaining price stability (which means, operationally, medium term inflation that is below, but close to 2 per cent)… It follows that the ECB’s governing council has not bound itself. If higher price pressures become apparent in future compared to those expected now, forward guidance in no way rules out a rise in interest rates.

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Michael Steen

Small change

Search the pockets, wallets, purses, car cigarette ashtrays and homes of anyone in (almost) any eurozone country and you are likely to find significant heaps of small, brown iron-and-copper 1 and 2 euro cent coins.

They cost more to make than they are worth, there’s precious little you can buy with them (though the German post office does sell a €0.03 stamp) and they tend to accumulate in drawers and on flat surfaces at an alarming rate. So, one might reasonably ask, why not just get rid of them? Read more

Michael Steen

What could be worse in the eyes of a central banker than money counterfeiting? Well, killing people, even if judicially mandated, seems to be the answer. Germany’s Bundesbank on Thursday beat a hasty retreat from plans to send experts to Bangladesh next month to help combat a recent spate of money forgers. Read more

When David Marsh wrote his definitive biography of the Bundesbank in 1993, he chose the following sub title: “The Bank That Rules Europe“. Feared and revered in equal measure, the Bundesbank was the model on which the ECB was built. Imitation was not, however, the sincerest form of flattery for Germany’s central bank. The arrival of the ECB removed most of its direct authority over monetary policy, leaving it with only one out of 23 votes on the governing council of the new central bank.

Recently, the Bundesbank’s President Jens Weidmann has been in a minority of one on the question of whether to launch the ECB’s new programme of Outright Monetary Transactions, to which he is fundamentally opposed. He views the proposed purchases of government debt in the troubled eurozone economies as a thinly disguised monetary bail-out of profligate governments, something which the Bundesbank had believed from the very beginning to be outside the intention of the treaties.

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Michael Steen

The dust has yet to settle on the Bundesbank’s fight with the ECB over bond-buying, but this has not stopped Germany’s central bank from taking on another heavyweight global financial institution: the International Monetary Fund.

BuBa’s monthly report, published on Monday, includes a whole chapter entitled: “The IMF in a changed global environment.” It becomes clear fairly quickly that eyebrows are being raised in Frankfurt at some elements of the IMF’s stance in the eurozone sovereign debt crisis, where the Fund has taken on its own lending and acted as a member of the “troika” of IMF, ECB and European Commission officials advising on bailouts.

“By taking on excessive risks, the IMF would gradually transform from a liquidity-providing mechanism into a lending institution,” the bank says on the first page of its 15-page discussion. “Such a transformation would neither accord with the legal and institutional provisions of the IMF agreement, nor with the fund’s financing mechanism or its risk control functions.” Read more

Claire Jones

When Mario Draghi insisted last week that central banks buying short-term government debt falls “within the range of classical monetary policy instruments”, most thought he was just having a dig at Germany’s Bundesbank, which views bond buying as beyond the scope of the ECB’s mandate.

But Mr Draghi might have a point.

Quantitative easing – where central banks buy government bonds outright – has a longer history than most think. Interestingly, it is a history in which the Bundesbank has played a key role. Read more

Claire Jones

House price rises of a little over 5 per cent would barely make the Federal Reserve, or the Bank of England, blush. Not so at the Bundesbank.

This is what Jens Weidmann, Bundesbank president, had to say back in March:

Jens Weidmann: We will see inflationary pressures rise in Germany. We already see that partly in some markets, such as real-estate. House prices increased by 5.5 per cent last year, which is not impressive by London standard, but still for Germany is something that we will need to watch.

The house price boom has gathered pace. The most recent data from the OECD shows that German house prices rose 9.5 per cent in the year to Q1.

Mr Weidmann has signalled that Buba will act if it thinks the boom is getting bubblicious, possibly through macroprudential measures such as limits on loan-to-value ratios, which cap the amount mortgage holders can borrow against the value of their property.

Klaus Baader at Société Générale is more relaxed, however.  Read more

Claire Jones

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ECB cut likely
Next week’s two key events are the Bank of England’s and the European Central Bank’s monetary policy votes. Expect both central banks to act. Read more

Claire Jones

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Inflation report hearing/ financial stability presser Read more

Claire Jones

Fascinated by the Target2 debate, but your obsession hasn’t quite reached the levels where you’re willing to keep a beady eye fixed on all of the seventeen national central banks’ balance sheets?

Help is at hand in the form of this handy graphic and Excel file (last updated yesterday) pulled together by a team at Institute of Empirical Economic Research at the University of Osnabrück in Germany (hat tip to David Marsh at OMFIF for the link): Read more

Claire Jones

Seldom are statements of the obvious as significant as the Bundesbank’s comments yesterday that Germany might well have to tolerate higher inflation than the rest of the eurozone in the coming years.

Jens Weidmann often cites the EC Treaty’s prohibition of monetary financing as an argument against stepping up the European Central Bank’s purchases of government debt.  It would be hypocritical for the Bundesbank president to argue against what is also implicit in the legislation that governs the ECB: that the governing council sets monetary policy for the eurozone as a whole, not individual member states.

Above-target inflation is the natural result of Germany’s position as the bloc’s strongest economy at a time when the divergences between member states’ fortunes are becoming more and more pronounced.

Still, from a central bank more aware than most of the social and economic carnage that accompanies the debasement of currencies, the Bundesbank’s acceptance that higher inflation is a price that it must pay as part of its commitment to monetary union is to be welcomed. Read more

Claire Jones

Our week ahead email helps you to track the most important events in central banking. To see all of our emails and alerts visit www.ft.com/nbe

Bernanke goes back to school

Ben Bernanke, Fed chairman, next week delivers the first two of four lectures to undergraduates at the George Washington University School of Business. Read more

Claire Jones

Jens Weidmann, the Bundesbank’s president, claimed today that the decision by the central bank to more than double the provisions for losses on assets held on its balance sheet on the back of “risks stemming from monetary policy operations” was not politically motivated.

Here at Money Supply, we beg to differ.

In fact, the three figures below, taken from the Bundesbank’s 2011 balance sheet, out today, highlight rather nicely just why the relationship between Buba and the European Central Bank is becoming more fraught. Read more

Ralph Atkins

Mario Draghi on Thursday faces perhaps his biggest political challenge since he become European Central Bank president in November.

Last week, a leaked letter from Jens Weidmann, Bundesbank president, highlighted rising anxiety at Germany’s central bank over the risks entailed in the ECB’s extraordinary actions to support the eurozone banking system, which have seen it inject more than €1trn in three-year liquidity in recent months.

How Mr Draghi responds to the confrontation at his press conference after Thursday’s governing council meeting could determine the extent to which his stewardship of the eurozone crisis is undermined by Bundesbank resistance.

The dispute could well dominate Thursday’s proceedings: with the ECB still waiting to see the impact of its liquidity measures on the real economy, no change is expected in interest rates. The suspense over Greece’s bail-out is unlikely to have cleared.

Mr Weidmann’s letter created considerable irritation and bewilderment among other members of the ECB’s 23-strong governing council. Read more

Ralph Atkins

What do central bankers do when they are worried? They increase their reserves.

Tuesday’s Bild Zeitung reports the Bundesbank will next Tuesday declare a sharp drop in profits after increasing provisions against risks on its balance sheet. The amount transferred to the German finance ministry would fall below €1bn, Bild said. That would be less than half the €2.2bn profit reported for 2010 – which was around half the previous year’s figures, again because of higher provisions.

The Bundesbank is not confirming Bild’s report, but it sounds plausible. Jens Weidmann, Bundesbank president, told Handelsblatt in an interview last month that the rising risks borne by Germany’s central bank would require “more rather than less provisions. That will have an equivalent impact on the level of Bundesbank profit.”  Besides significantly higher provisions this year would fit with the Bundesbank president’s increasingly-cautious rhetoric more recently. Read more

Ralph Atkins

Jens Weidmann, Bundesbank president, would have “no problem” with the European Central Bank selling its Greek bonds as part of a package to help the country’s bail-out. But he has thrown doubt on whether governments will pick-up the bill.

“I would have no problem removing the balance sheet risks that we were hesitant about accepting in the first place – so long as their removal does not lead to losses,” he told Handlesblatt, the German business newspaper, in an interview published on Wednesday.

His comments provide confirmation that the ECB would be prepared to forgo the profits it had expected to make on its Greek bond holdings – but, crucially, that no deal has yet been struck. Read more

Ralph Atkins

German politicians and the Bundesbank have not softened their opposition to the European Central Bank taking a decisive role in the eurozone debt crisis. But one demand has been quietly dropped. A Europe policy programme agreed by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union at a Leipzig party conference this week made no mention of boosting the Bundesbank’s influence at the ECB.

The proposal to give Jens Weidmann, Bundesbank president, votes in proportion to the size of the Geman economy had been touted by the country’s conservatives, who saw him being outmaneuvered by the ECB governing council’s 22 other members – especially over the its controversial bond purchasing programme. Read more

Ralph Atkins

Is Jens Weidmann, Germany’s Bundesbank president, rallying opponents of the European Central Bank’s government bond purchasing scheme? The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports he hosted a secret meeting on Tuesday in the wine region that surrounds Frankfurt. Those apparently invited included Yves Mersch and Klaas Knot, his counterparts from Luxembourg and the Netherlands who are similarly conservative-minded.

Germany is awash with conspiracy theories these days about the ECB, and the idea that Mr Weidmann would want stiffen the sinews of other opponents of its bond buying – which has exceeded €70bn in the past six weeks - might appear plausible. I have heard an alternative version of the story, however. Read more

Ralph Atkins

Following my last post, Jens Weidmann, has offered a further insight on his thinking as Germany’s new Bundesbank president. His predecessor, Axel Weber, famously opposed in public the European Central Bank’s government bond purchasing scheme.

Mr Weidmann has not - so far - repeated that opposition outright. But hidden carefully in a speech on payment systems (in German) he delivered in Frankfurt this morning, was a reference to how the Bundesbank had repeatedly warned of the need to distinguish clearly between fiscal and monetary policies. Read more

Ralph Atkins

Shock news in the Bundesbank’s latest monthly bulletin: German house prices have gone up. The more-or-less flat profile of residential property prices over the past decade has been one of the defining features of Europe’s largest economy over the past year. It meant the country escaped a house price bubble, the downside of which is now being seen in the US, UK and, within the eurozone, in Spain and Portugal. (Instead German investors piled into US subprime mortgages – but that’s another story.) Read more