European Central Bank

Michael Steen

Graffiti outside the ECB's future headquarters. (Getty)

Could the European Central Bank be learning a thing or two about managing the message? Ahead of Thursday’s interest rate-setting meeting, when policymakers will want to do nothing more than say “we’re holding steady”, it looks like the bank may come up with an eye-catching announcement to give everyone something to write about.

That something is the long-running and vexed question of why the bank that loves to tell you how transparent it is (well, at certain times, once you’ve cleared security and as long as you understand no quotes should be used from this conversation) keeps the minutes of its governing council meetings secret for 30 years. The practice makes it an outlier – the Federal Reserve, Bank of England and Bank of Japan all publish minutes of their monetary policy meetings within a month of the meeting that they cover. Read more

Michael Steen

After ditching its long-standing policy of never commenting on future interest rates in order to launch “forward guidance” last week, the European Central Bank has landed itself into something of a pickle as to what it really means when it says rates will stay at or below their current level for an “extended period”.

Mario Draghi, ECB president, was pressed on the question immediately after launching the policy last Thursday and said:

Well, I said an extended period of time is an extended period of time: it is not six months, it is not 12 months – it is an extended period of time.

That is from the official ECB transcript and has punctuation that helps to suggest that Mr Draghi was refusing to say it was any given period of time. However it was also clearly open to misinterpretation and that is why a certain amount of briefing took place after the press conference in which officials made clear that what Mr Draghi meant to do was avoid giving an answer on a time frame, rather than suggest rates would be low for at least 12 months.

So today’s comments by Jörg Asmussen, a member of the six-person ECB executive board and close ally of Mr Draghi, were all the more surprising. Read more

Claire Jones

What is forward guidance?
Forward guidance has been around for a while (it was pioneered by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand 16 years ago) and can take many forms.
But, as the FT’s Frankfurt bureau chief Michael Steen writes here, all of them boil down to saying — or at least hinting at — what you’re going to do before you do it.
Until recently, guidance usually involved central banks using a mix of their economic projections and their inflation targeting frameworks to show markets whether their expectations of the direction and timing of policy changes were right or not. It was all a bit techy and abstruse.
No longer. Most of the focus recently has been on forms of forward guidance that the public — as well as markets — can easily understand. These more explicit forms of forward guidance involve central banks promising to keep monetary policy ultra-loose either until a fixed point in the future, or until economic conditions pick up.

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For many years, one of the most enduring mantras of central banking was along the lines of “we never pre-commit to future actions, because all of the information we have about the state of the economy is already contained in the actions we have just announced”. Now that has been completely abandoned. With the ECB and the BoE changes announced today, the central banks are shouting from the rooftops that “we are all forward guiders now”. Read more

Michael Steen

Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank president, pulled off the feat of sounding incredibly doveish today while keeping rates on hold and actually making sure his room for manoeuvre remains as wide as possible. Here are five quick takeaways from the press conference following this month’s meeting: Read more

Claire Jones

Hello and welcome to our live blog on the European Central Bank’s press conference. The governing council held rates today, as expected. But ECB president Mario Draghi might offer some clues on what’s to come from the central bank in the months ahead. Mr Draghi is due to begin speaking at 13.30 UK time.

By Claire Jones and Lindsay Whipp. All times UK time.

 

Michael Steen

Last week anti-capitalist protesters outside the European Central Bank were dominating (at least the local) news in Frankfurt, this week it was the turn of the policymakers inside the building. The ECB is keeping its rates on hold at 0.5 per cent and Mario Draghi, president, has been quizzed on where the eurozone is headed.

The ECB staff’s quarterly economic forecasts have been tweaked, so this year’s contraction is greater than previously forecast at 0.6 per cent and next year’s growth forecast creeps up to 1.1 per cent (but then a year is a long, long time in economic forecasting.)

What else have we learnt? Read more

Claire Jones

Hello and welcome to the FT’s live blog on the European Central Bank’s monetary policy decision and press conference. All eyes are on the ECB as policy makers wait for an improvement in the eurozone’s recession-bound economy. By Claire Jones and Lindsay Whipp in London.

The governing council’s vote is due at 12.45 (BST) and ECB President Mario Draghi will meet the press at half past one.

 

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

You still need a strong constitution or a taste for gallows humour to read most eurozone economic statistics, as today’s release of the preliminary Q1 gross domestic product growth contraction data shows.

The bloc is now in its longest recession since the birth of the single currency, beating the post-Lehman Brothers slump in duration, though not in the depth of the downturn. Read more

Hello and welcome to the FT’s live blog on the European Central Bank’s rate decision and press conference. All eyes on Thursday are on the ECB and what it has left in its tool kit as gloomy data throws further doubt on the recession-bound eurozone economy.

Many economists are expecting what would largely be a symbolic cut in interest rates. The governing council’s vote is due at 12.45 (BST) and ECB President Mario Draghi will meet the press at half past one.

By Claire Jones and Lindsay Whipp. All times are UK time.

 

Michael Steen

One of the benefits of the European Central Bank’s new household finance and consumption survey is that it allows eurozone household data to be compared with that of the US, since the surveys use comparable methodologies.

The survey already caused something of a stir in Germany earlier this week because it appeared to show that the typical Cypriot household was better off than the typical German one. (In 2010, anyway, and subject to a lot of caveats and nuance, summarised in the story.)

Today’s ECB monthly bulletin also picks over some of the data in the HFCS and highlights this ability to compare data with the US Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances. One interesting tidbit it points out is quite how much wealth distribution differs between the US and (the euro-wielding corner of) Europe. Read more

Tom Burgis

Mark Carney, the incoming governor of the Bank of England, was grilled by MPs and his ECB counterpart Mario Draghi faced awkward questions. By Tom Burgis, Ben Fenton and Lina Saigol in London with contributions from FT correspondents. All times are GMT.  

Claire Jones

Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank. Image by DANIEL ROLAND/AFP/Getty Images.

Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank. Image by DANIEL ROLAND/AFP/Getty Images.

Hello and welcome to today’s live blog for European Central Bank president Mario Draghi’s first press conference of 2013.

Mr Draghi will begin speaking at 13.30. All times are UK time.

 

 

14.40 The live blog is now closed.

14.38 The ECB president struck a very upbeat tone at today’s presser.

Mr Draghi is clearly delighted with the recent developments in financial markets (see 13.46), though he warned against complacency on the part of governments and added that we were yet to see any signs of an economic recovery.

Because markets were a lot more positive, the governing council was unanimous in deciding to hold rates and no-one even bothered to discuss the option of a cut, which now looks unlikely to happen in the coming months.

14.30 The questions end. Recap to follow.

14.28 Contagion is now working in the eurozone’s favour. “There is a positive contagion when things go well and that’s what’s in play now,” he says.

Despite the recent progress made, however, Draghi say DON’T relax. Which is all well and good, but it doesn’t make for a decent t-shirt does it?

He urges governments to keep up the good work and continue to implement structural reforms.

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Michael Steen

Yves Mersch. Getty Images

Yves Mersch, the former governor of the bank of Luxembourg, whose elevation to the European Central Bank’s six-person executive board became the subject of a row about the lack of female central bankers, has given his first interview since taking up the post on Monday.

The ECB normally publishes transcripts of these on its website but has not done so this time, presumably because the interview with Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung was conducted just before he formally took up post. So as a service to Money Supply readers, here are some of the highlights.

Mr Mersch attempted to pour cold water on speculation that a cut to the ECB’s main refinancing rate (currently 0.75 per cent) is imminent. Read more

Claire Jones

Mario Draghi, ECB president. Image by Getty.

Mario Draghi, ECB president. Image by Getty.

Hello and welcome to today’s live blog on the European Central Bank’s press conference, which follows today’s governing council vote.

ECB president Mario Draghi will meet the press at half 1.

All times are UK time.

 

14.30 And that’s it for the final ECB presser of 2012.

The most important developments were the suggestions that a rate cut had been discussed (and that some members of the governing council had supported it at the December vote) and the “growth” downgrades.

14.26 The ECB president says its “pointless” talking about eurobonds now. Why so? Because it would be pointless to talk about mutualising risk before you have put in place rules that limit fiscal discretion. Eurozone members have to rebuild trust first. “It will become realistic when trust is re-established,” he says. Read more

Welcome to a live blog of Mario Draghi’s press conference from ECB HQ in Frankfurt. With rates held and Mr Draghi already having worried investors with his remarks on Wednesday about a slowing German economy, attention will be on what more the bank’s president has to say about the main driver of Eurozone growth. Brought to you by Ben Fenton and Ben Hall.

 

14.47: That’s it for this live blog, but….

…the last word goes to the FT’s Frankfurt bureau chief Michael Steen (well it is his city and his newspaper). His view of the most interesting line from the Draghi press conference:

“Pressed on ways ECB might ease Greek funding problems, Draghi said the bank already agreed to send back any profits it made from Greek bond holdings to the central bank in Athens which could then be transferred to government. The ECB was “by and large done” helping Greece within its mandate he said.”

14.45: Here is an instant reaction from Howard Archer, chief UK & European economist at IHS Global Insight:

ECB President Mario Draghi appeared to ease open the door to a cut in interest rates over the coming months and potentially as soon as December. Potentially significantly when asked whether the ECB had discussed an interest rate cut at their November meeting, Mr. Draghi commented that “we always discuss all instruments.” This contrasted to his comments after both the September and the ECB meetings, when Mr. Draghi said that the ECB had not discussed cutting interest rates. Mr. Draghi also commented that the ECB stands ready to act on standard monetary policy as well as on non-standard policy. Interestingly, though Mr. Draghi indicated that the ECB had not discussed negative deposit rates (they were cut to zero in August).

Furthermore, Mr. Draghi acknowledged that the Eurozone growth situation and outlook had weakened recently, and hinted that the ECB’s GDP growth staff projections would be revised down in their December forecasts. The ECB’s statement observed that “most recent survey evidence for the economy as a whole, extending into the fourth quarter, does not signal improvements towards the end of the year.” Furthermore, the ECB considered that “growth momentum is expected to remain weak” in 2013, largely due to the need of balance sheet adjustments in both the financial and non-financial sectors, an uneven global recovery and high uncertainty. Mr. Draghi has also expressed concern recently over very high and rising Eurozone unemployment. Reinforcing this downbeat assessment of Eurozone growth prospects, the ECB statement observed that “the risks surrounding the economic outlook for the euro area remain on the downside.”

Meanwhile, the ECB’s view on inflation does not appear to preclude an interest rate cut in the near term. While the ECB expects Eurozone consumer price inflation to remain above 2.0% and at elevated levels for the remainder of 2012, the bank sees inflation “declining to below 2.0% again in the course of next year”. The ECB regards long-term inflation expectations as “well-anchored” and believes that underlying price pressures should remain moderate, with the result that current levels of inflation should be “transitory”.

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Claire Jones

European Central Bank data, out Thursday, showed that the amount of cash that businesses and households are parking in Spanish banks rose in September for the first time since the spring.

Deposits held by Greek and Italian banks also rose last month, while those parked in German banks dipped slightly.

One swallow does not make a summer. But residents of the Eurotower will be cautiously optimistic that the fact that banks in Greece and Spain are no longer haemorrhaging deposits shows that one of the aims of the ECB’s Outright Monetary Transactions programme is being fulfilled with the central bank yet to buy a single bond. Read more

Michael Steen

The waiting game grinds on to see when (and it’s hard to find anyone who thinks it is an “if” rather than a “when”) Spain will apply to the EU’s rescue funds for a credit line that would allow the ECB to make use of its “outright monetary transactions” bond-buying programme. A repeated theme of the Spanish government has been to say it would like to know more details about OMT before tying itself fast to the fiscal conditions attached to a rescue programme.

Now some clarity from Benoît Cœuré, the ECB executive board member who oversees market operations, who spells it out:

We’ve been very clear on the modalities of the OMTs. They are ready and we’re not going to provide any more details.

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Michael Steen

According to the Maradona theory of monetary policy, as outlined by Sir Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, a central bank can let expectations that it will act – rather than actual action – do the work for it.

The theory is being tested right now by Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, as his controversial “outright monetary transactions” bond-buying programme is forced to sit on the benches until the prime candidate for help, Spain, applies to the EU’s bailout fund.

As a quick reminder, the Maradona theory refers to the 1986 World Cup quarter final between England and Argentina. Diego Maradona scored a celebrated goal with a run from near the halfway line in which he beat five England players by, er, running in a straight line. Read more