UPDATE: 8:15 a.m. EST — Despite low energy prices and China’s slowing economy, the European Central Bank Thursday decided to leave the interest rate charged on loans to banks unchanged at 0.05 percent. The ECB also kept the overnight rate on deposits at a negative 0.3 percent — a negative rate means commercial banks have to pay to leave excess funds in the central bank. The lack of action was expected in light of last month’s decision to loosen policy, the Wall Street Journal reported.
In comments made ahead of the European Central Bank’s governing council meeting Thursday, members of the council expressed confidence that the bank’s quantitative easing program was bearing fruit. The ECB, which expanded its massive stimulus program last month, is unlikely to announce fresh measures later Thursday and will wait at least until the next meeting in March, analysts said.
“The ECB’s quantitative easing is working, and it has made a positive influence on gross domestic product growth,” Lithuanian Governing Council member Vitas Vasiliauskas reportedly said, during a conference in Vienna Wednesday. “With regards to GDP, it means more exports for the eurozone. So I think the effect of the ECB asset-purchase program is positive for all the eurozone.”
Stimulus measures announced by a central bank can have a far-reaching impact on businesses, investors and consumers. Last month, the ECB, which began its program of quantitative easing — wherein it buys assets, usually government bonds, to pump cash into the economy — in January, expanded the stimulus measures for another six months through March 2017. That means the ECB will continue to inject 60 billion euros ($65 billion) in the system every month, hoping that the extra cash would allow businesses to invest more and consumers to spend more, giving a boost to the eurozone economy.
This also weakens the euro, benefitting exports from the bloc, and should, in practice, result in an increase in consumer prices, pushing them closer to the central bank’s target of 2 percent.
However, effects of the ECB’s stimulus measures have been blunted by a plethora of global factors, not least the prevailing low oil prices that have kept the eurozone’s inflation lower than the central bank’s target.
As the price of a barrel of Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, continues to plummet — nearing $27 Thursday — inflation in the 19-nation eurozone has stubbornly remained at, or near, zero percent. In December, annual inflation in the bloc is estimated to have been 0.2 percent, improving slightly from November’s 0.1 percent.
“Inflation expectations for the future are the main thing when thinking about the asset purchase program,” Vasiliauskas reportedly said. “The program is making and will make a positive impact. So let’s wait, because we have a lot of, I would say, international factors which are also very important for the eurozone’s monetary policy in the future.”
For now, most analysts and investors are betting that ECB President Mario Draghi, while holding off on announcement of fresh stimulus measures Thursday, may hint that further rate cuts and bigger asset purchases are on the way.
“Everything that’s happening in oil and financial markets is a huge challenge, and the longer the turmoil lasts the higher the chance they do something,” Frederik Ducrozet, a senior economist at the Switzerland-based Pictet Wealth Management, told the Wall Street Journal.