Investors cheered the ECB’s commitment to flood the eurozone with more than €1 trillion ($1.16 trillion) in newly created money, sparking a rally in stock and bond markets and sending the euro plunging.
But in light of Europe’s underlying problems of stagnant growth, high debt and rigid labor markets, ECB President Mario Draghi suggested the central bank’s largess alone won’t be enough to right its economy.
“What monetary policy can do is create the basis for growth,” he said. “But for growth to pick up, you need investment; for investment, you need confidence; and for confidence, you need structural reform.”
Mr. Draghi said the ECB will buy a total of €60 billion a month in assets including government bonds, debt securities issued by European institutions and private-sector bonds. The purchases of government bonds and those issued by European institutions such as the European Investment Bank will start in March and are intended to run through to September 2016. Mr. Draghi signaled the purchases could extend further if the ECB isn’t meeting its inflation target of just below 2%. (…)
The ECB will cast a wide net for public debt, saying it would purchase securities with maturities ranging from two to 30 years. The ECB is also willing to buy bonds with a negative yield, which some short-dated German government bonds now have. (…)
But the new ECB stimulus isn’t quite as large as the €60 billion figure suggests. The ECB included existing purchases of asset-backed securities and covered bonds under programs launched last year. Excluding those facilities, the new bond buys amount to about €50 billion a month, analysts said. (…)
In a nod to concerns in healthier euro countries over the prospect of assuming risks tied to their neighbors’ debts, the ECB said government bonds will be mostly purchased by national central banks and excluded from potential loss sharing. Credit risks associated with the bonds of European Union institutions will be shared, however. “We are not in a one-country setup,” Mr. Draghi said. (…)
Under quantitative easing, central banks create new bank reserves to buy assets from financial institutions. Central banks get bonds, and banks get money that they can in turn use to extend new credit to households and businesses. Such expansionary monetary policies usually weaken an economy’s exchange rate, which boost exports. (…)
Not all members of the central bank’s governing council supported the decision to buy government bonds. Mr. Draghi said there was a large majority in favor of launching the program and unanimity that, in principle, buying government bonds is “a true monetary policy tool.” But some council members didn’t think it was necessary to buy bonds now. The ECB didn’t name opponents, but Germany’s two ECB council members have recently signaled their opposition to buying bonds.
Eurozone Data Show Pickup in Activity The eurozone economy picked up in January, according to surveys of purchasing managers, a modest encouragement to the European Central Bank as it embarks on a more aggressive push to lift the currency area out of its slump.
(…) It seems that today’s QE1 from the ECB will be roughly the same order of magnitude as the QE3launched by the Federal Reserve in 2012, but very considerably smaller than QQE2, launched by the Bank of Japan in 2014. Cumulatively, by the end of 2016, the ECB will have added more to its balance sheet since 2007 (as a percentage of GDP) than either the Fed or the Bank of England, but much less than the Bank of Japan (see graph). Given all the constraints and uncertainties placed upon him, this is a reasonable attempt by Mr Draghi to “right size” the initiative.
What about the modalities of the bond purchases? The outcome is not ideal. The Bundesbank and others seem to have required that 80 per cent of the default risks should remain on the balance sheets of the national central banks, thus giving a signal that the monetary union is not, after all, a true union in all circumstances.
Economists have already been hotly disputing whether this manoeuvre is necessary to prevent de facto fiscal risk sharing via the ECB balance sheet and, if so, whether it undermines the monetary policy benefits of QE.
Much of this debate is hypothetical and arcane but the consensus among independent economists seems to be in line with what Mr Draghi said today, ie that, in normal circumstances, the intended monetary easing is not compromised by the absence of full risk sharing. However, in a confidence crisis, this decision could add to speculation against the integrity of the single currency itself. That may be a price that Mr Draghi thought was worth paying to bring “a large majority” of his governing council onside with the decision to act today. (…)
What seems clear from recent events is that the Bundesbank no longer has a veto, which is what matters for the path and effectiveness of monetary policy. And, in a separate vote, the German central bank has now formally joined all the rest in unanimously agreeing that QE is a valid tool of monetary policy, which is important for the future. (…)
The euro exchange rate has fallen by 10 per cent in six months. And the banking sector finally seems to be recovering, following the stress tests last year.Fiscal policy is not supportive of growth, but nor is it any longer becoming more restrictive from one year to the next.
In many respects, the situation is reminiscent of that in the UK and the US in 2013, when growth rates unexpectedly began to rise, confounding the pessimists.
But there is one crucial difference. The absence of structural reforms in labour and product markets has taken the underlying trend growth rate in the eurozone to below 1 per cent, less that half that in the US. It is not clear why Keynesian critics of Germany are so reluctant to recognise that structural reforms and monetary accommodation are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they should reinforce one another, as Mr Draghi emphasised again today. (…)
A Evans-Pritchard: Mario Draghi’s QE blitz may save southern Europe, but at the risk of losing Germany
(…) Adam Posen, a former UK rate-setter and now head of Washington’s Peterson Institute, said the QE blitz is large, but not as overwhelming as some think. “It will make some difference. It’s not going to be enough to fully offset deflationary forces, let alone restore growth, but to the degree that Draghi was able to make it sound open ended is a good thing,” he said.
“Ultimately, €1.1 trillion over 18 months versus euro area GDP is roughly a third of what the Bank of England or Federal Reserve did under similar circumstances, and it’s likely to take more money to get the same effect in Europe right now,” he said. (…)
The decision amounts to an act of political defiance by a majority bloc in the Governing Council – unmistakably a debtors’ cartel of Latin states and like-minded states – and therefore opens an entirely new chapter of the EMU story.
This Latin revolt is to violate the sacred contract of EMU: that Germany gave up the D-Mark and bequeathed the Bundesbank’s legacy to the ECB on the one condition that Germany would never be out-voted on monetary issues of critical importance.
Nor is the irritation confined to Germany. The Tweede Kamer of the Dutch parliament was up in arms today, the scene of fulminating protests from across the party spectrum. “Dutch taxpayers should not be made liable for the debts of the Italian state,” said the liberal VVD party. (…)
Let me be clear: I have argued for at least three years that the Latin bloc should seize control of the ECB’s machinery and call the German bluff, and this is exactly what has just happened.
They have perfect right to do so. The ECB’s policy has been far too tight even for Euroland as a whole. For them it has been disastrous. The slide towards deflation – and contracting nominal GDP – has caused their debt trajectories to spiral upwards even faster.
Yet nobody should have any illusions about the implications of such defiance. What is at stake is German political consent for the euro project. Bernd Lucke, the leader of the AfD anti-euro party, called today’s decision an “act of desperation and the introduction of eurobonds by the back door” by the ECB.
The Bavarian Social Christians (CSU) are also furious. “With this decision, the ECB has crossed the Rubicon,” said Angelika Niebler, the party’s parliamentary leader. The Bavarian finance minister, Markus Soder, said: “unlimited purchases of sovereign bonds threaten to bring down the whole system.”
On the Left, Die Linke lashed out at the decision, calling it a gift for insiders. It plunders the savings of the poor to make the “super-rich even richer” by driving up asset prices.
Mr Draghi may have saved Italy from a debt-deflation trap in the nick of time. He may have gained another year or two for Southern Europe to recover before radical populist parties sweep the stale elites from the political scene. But in doing so he risks losing Germany.
Now, listen to Larry Fink through the end:
LARRY FINK ON EU, US, ECB, FED, SNB, ETC
Good stuff from Bloomberg Television: http://bloom.bg/1E6EQWr
Gasoline Heads to $2, Breaking Records Along the Way Gas prices appear headed below a nationwide average of $2 a gallon in coming days, and the rapid plunge is beginning to ripple through the U.S. economy in ways both familiar and unpredictable.
Restaurants and bars are seeing their best sales growth in years. Americans are driving more—and buying bigger cars and trucks. Consumer confidence is sitting at an 11-year high, with lower-income households showing the biggest improvement. And some households are using the savings at the pump to get caught up on debts. (…)
Falling gas prices benefit lower- and middle-income households more than top earners because energy costs account for a higher share of their income. The bottom fifth of earners spent around 12% of their after-tax income on gas last year, compared with around 3% for the top fifth of earners, according to Wells Fargo. If prices remain at current levels, the lowest-income households will spend around 8.3% of their income on gas this year, compared with around 2% for the highest-income households. (…)
If crude-oil prices remain at $50 a barrel, it would result in per capita savings of roughly $575—or nearly $1,325 per U.S. household—on gas over the coming year relative to last year’s spending, according to an estimate prepared for The Wall Street Journal by ClearView Energy Partners.
That is up from its most recently published estimate of $380 made at the beginning of December, when oil prices stood near $75 a barrel. The larger figure doesn’t include an average $100 in savings relative to 2013 spending that consumers booked from cheaper gas last year. (…)
Blackstone’s CEO: Oil Is ‘Biggest Investment Opportunity in the World’ Are weak prices in the energy patch creating a buyer’s market? Deal makers say so.
“Oil is the biggest investment opportunity in the world,” said Stephen Schwarzman, the chairman and CEO of private-equity firm Blackstone Group LPBX +2.91%, during an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Saudi’s new king pledges continuity Bid to reassure markets and allies in kingdom
(…) The most immediate questions facing the new king will be over the kingdom’s oil policy and its opposition to Opec production cuts to support plunging oil prices as it seeks to safeguard its market share.
In a speech on state television King Salman pledged to “continue adhering to the correct policies which Saudi Arabia has followed since its establishment… The Arab and the Islamic nations are in dire need of solidarity and cohesion.” (…)
Speaking on behalf of the king before his death, Salman said the kingdom would deal with the oil price fall with a “firm will”. (…)