MacroScope

The ECB keeps putting up the cash, but where’s the lending?

Draghi and TrichetFor the European Central Bank, a lot is riding on euro zone banks ramping up lending to the private sector. Unfortunately, after a very long time, lending still is not growing. It fell 1.6 percent on a year ago in July.

Struggling with a dangerously low inflation rate that is expected to dip even further to 0.3 percent in August, the ECB placed a big bet back in June that hundreds of billions of euros more in cash for banks in further liquidity auctions in October and December this year would help turn the situation around.

The catch: instead of no strings attached, as its policy was in the past for allowing banks access to cheap money, these long-term refinancing operations (LTROs) will require banks to set aside some money to lend to the private sector. So these ones are targeted, hence why the ECB calls them TLTROs.

Private lending growth, the ECB says, will help bring inflation back up from near zero to the 2 percent target.

But as the chart below shows, the ECB has its work cut out for it.

It is well-documented that much of the past LTRO cash – over one trillion euros in two auctions alone during the depths of the sovereign debt crisis – found its way into the stock market as well as euro zone government bonds.

ECB’s fingers crossed for private loans growth

Mostly bereft of policy options except for outright quantitative easing, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi hopes that hundreds of billions of euros more in cheap loans to banks will boost inflation.

The jury will be out for a long time before we get any decision on whether they have worked.

The first two rounds of cash, worth over one trillion euros and administered as an emergency shock treatment to a patient on the verge of breaking up, helped keep the euro zone alive. 

Another month, another downside surprise on euro zone inflation

sale signsNobody except a born pessimist ever expects a bad situation to get incrementally worse.

But the relentless downward trajectory of inflation in the euro zone has got plenty of economists sounding unconvinced that the situation will turn around any time soon.

A surprise plunge in Spanish inflation to -0.3 percent in July and a lack of any additional inflation pressure from Germany, the euro zone’s largest economy, dashed hopes that euro zone inflation would rise from 0.5 percent back toward the European Central Bank’s 2.0 percent target.

Euro needs the Fed, or QE, for the next leg down

EIt has become increasingly clear it takes a lot more than words to sink the euro.

The European Central Bank cut rates as low as they will go on Thursday and announced another round of cheap cash for banks, hoping the euro, which has helped knock down inflation in the fragile euro zone economy, will fall.

Yet the ECB’s efforts yielded little more than a lukewarm response from markets, suggesting that the only thing that will get the euro to fall any further in the very near-term is a change in the outlook for U.S. rates, and through that, a stronger dollar.

Evening of reckoning

EU heads of government and state dine in Brussels this evening to discuss their response to a big slap in the face from the bloc’s electorates.

Italy’s Matteo Renzi, who bucked the trend by winning handsomely as an incumbent prime minister, has the wind in his sails and has pledged to change Europe’s focus towards growth and job creation after years of fiscal austerity in response to the euro zone’s debt crisis.

A French official said President Francois Hollande would back Renzi’s call for more pro-growth policies and tell fellow EU leaders that Europe had reached “the alarm level”. Even Germany’s Angela Merkel – the one who really counts – is talking about Europe’s people not caring about treaty change but job security and prosperity.

A negative ECB deposit rate: “What difference would it make?”

A chef slices a portion of greater amberjack while preparing sashimi at the Akasaka Umaya Japanese-style restaurant in TokyoThe European Central Bank will probably cut its deposit rate below zero in a few weeks, charging banks to park money with it.

What is striking is how many analysts and money market traders alike think the net result will be neutral at best.

The trouble is, with few options left and strong hints from the ECB that it is on the verge of action, it is also clear that not cutting the deposit rate would probably do harm by pushing money market rates higher.

Strong euro may be a monster Draghi can’t tame

Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank (ECB), addresses the media during his monthly news conference at the ECB headquarters in FrankfurtECB President Mario Draghi may have created a monster when he declared nearly two years ago that he will do “whatever it takes” to save the euro.

Given that Draghi has now openly pegged the outlook for monetary policy at least partly to the exchange rate, the prospect of both short-term and long-term investors buying the euro is a worrying obstacle for policy.

A rampant euro is anathema to the ECB’s narrow mandate, which is aimed squarely at getting very low inflation back to its target of just below 2 percent. A stronger euro keeps a lid on the price of everything the euro zone imports from abroad. And it makes everything it exports seem relatively more expensive.

Is it time for the ECB to do more?

From financial forecasters to the International Monetary Fund, calls for the European Central Bank to do more to support the euro zone recovery are growing louder.

With inflation well below the ECB’s 2 percent target ceiling and continuing to fall, 20 of 53 economists in a Reuters Poll conducted last week said the bank was wrong to leave policy unchanged at recent meetings and should do more when it meets on Thursday.

And the pressure on the ECB to do more has mounted after the preliminary inflation estimate for March was published on Monday. The data showed inflation cooling down further to 0.5 percent, its lowest since November 2009.

Marathon banking union talks

Shots were fired at an international team of monitors in Crimea over the weekend, violence flared in Sevastopol as thousands staged rallies and Angela Merkel, who perhaps has the most receptive western ear to Vladimir Putin, rebuked him for supporting a referendum on Ukraine’s southern region joining Russia. But in truth we’re not much further forward or backwards in this crisis.

The West from Barack Obama on down has said the referendum vote next Sunday is illegal under international law but it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle if Ukraine’s southern region chooses to break away. The best guess – but it is only a guess – is that barring an accidental sparking of hostilities, there is not much percentage in Russia putting its forces in Crimea onto a more aggressive footing in advance of the vote.

Euro zone finance ministers meet and are joined by their non-euro counterparts for an Ecofin on Tuesday. They have the mammoth task of finalizing everything on banking union that was set out in principle by their leaders at a December summit, since when not much has happened.

Japan-style deflation in Europe getting harder to dismiss

To most people, the idea of falling prices sounds like a good thing. But it poses serious economic and financial risks – just ask the Japanese, who only now finally have the upper hand in a 20-year battle to drag their economy out of deflation.

That front is shifting westward, to the euro zone.

Deflation tempts consumers to postpone spending and businesses to delay investment because they expect prices to be lower in the future. This slows growth and puts upward pressure on unemployment. It also increases the real debt burden of debtors, from consumers to companies to governments.

In many ways, policymakers fear deflation more than inflation as it’s a more difficult spiral to exit. After all, interest rates can only go as low as zero and if that doesn’t kickstart spending, they’re in trouble. Again, just ask the Japanese.