The ECB hints at buying equities and replacing bank intermediation

by Shaun Richards

A feature of this virus pandemic is the way that it seems to have infected central bankers with the impact of them becoming power mad as well as acting if they are on speed. Also they often seen lost in a land of confusion as this from yesterday from the Governor of the Bank of France highlights.

Naturally, there is a huge amount of uncertainty over how the economic environment will evolve, but this is probably less true for inflation.

Okay so the picture for inflation is clearer, how so?

 In the short term, the public health crisis is disinflationary, as exemplified by the drop in oil prices. Inflation is currently very low, at 0.3% in the euro area and 0.4% in France in April; granted, it is particularly tricky to measure prices in the wake of the lockdown, due to the low volume of data reporting and transactions, and the shift in consumer habits, temporary or otherwise.

This is not the best of starts as we see in fact that one price has fallen ( oil) but many others are much less clear due to the inability to measure them.Of course having applied so much monetary easing Francois Villeroy is desperate to justify it.

The medium-term consequences are more open to debate, due notably to uncertainties over production costs, linked for example to health and environmental standards and the potential onshoring of certain production lines; the differences between sectors could be significant, leading to variations in relative prices rather than a general upward path.

As you can see he moves from not being able to measure it to being very unsure although he later points out it is expected to be 1% next year which in his mind justifies his actions. There is the usual psychobabble about price stability being an inflation rate of 2% per annum which if course it isn’t.  #

Policy

It is probably best if you live in a glass house not to throw stones but nobody seems to have told Francois that.

Our choice at the ECB is more pragmatic: since March, we, like the Fed and the Bank of England, have greatly expanded and strengthened our armoury of instruments and in so doing refuted all those – and remember there were a lot of them only a few months ago – who feared that the central banks were “running out of ammunition”.

I will return to that later but let us move onto what Francois regards as longer-term policies.

First, in September 2019, we amended our use of negative rates with a tiering system to mitigate their adverse impacts on bank intermediation. I see no reason to change these rates now.

Actually it has not taken long for Francois to contradict himself on the ammunition point as “see no reason” means he feels he cannot go further into negative interest-rates for the general population. You may also note that he starts with “My Precious! My Precious!” which is revealing. Oh and he has cut the TLTRO interest-rate for banks to -1% more recently.

Plus.

Meanwhile, asset purchases, in operation since mid-2014, reached a total of EUR 2,800 billion in April 2020 and will continue at a monthly average pace of more than EUR 30 billion.

Make of this what you will.

We can also add forward guidance to this arsenal,….. This forward guidance provides considerable leeway to adapt to economic changes thanks to its self-stabilising endogenous component.

New Policy

Suddenly he did cut interest-rates and we are back to “My Precious! My Precious!”

The supply of liquidity to banks has been reinforced in terms of quantity and, above all, through an incentivising price structure. Interest rates on TLTROIII operations were cut dramatically on 12 March and again on 30 April and are now, at -1%

There is also this.

Above all, we have created the EUR 750 billion Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP)…….First, flexibility in terms of time. We are not bound by a monthly allocation…….Second, flexibility in terms of volume. Unlike the PSPP, we are not committed to a fixed amount – today, the PEPP can go “up to EUR 750 million”, and we stated on 30 April that we were prepared to go further if need be.

If we look at the weekly updates which have settled at around 30 billion Euros per week the original 750 billion will run out as September moves into October if that pace is maintained. So it looks likely that there will be more although as the summer progresses things will of course change quite a bit.

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Then Francois displays even more of what we might call intellectual flexibility. You see he is not targeting spreads or “yield curve control” or a “spread control” but he is….

While there is a risk that the effects of the crisis may in some cases be asymmetric, we will not allow adverse market dynamics to lead to unwarranted interest rate hikes in some countries.

So he is trying to have his cake and eat it here.

Innovation

This word is a bit of a poisoned chalice as those have followed the Irish banking crisis will know. But let me switch to this subject and open with a big deal for the ECB especially since the sleeping giant known as the German Constitutional Court has shown signs of opening one eye, maybe.

And this brings me to my third point, flexibility in terms of allocation between countries.

He means Italy of course.

Next up is one of the sillier ideas around.

Allow me to say a final word on another development under discussion: the possibility of “going direct” to finance businesses without going through the bank channel. The truth is that we do this already, and have done since 2016, by being among the first central banks to buy corporate bonds.

He is probably keen because of this.

The NEU-CP market in Paris is by far the most active in the euro area, with outstandings of EUR 72 billion in mid-May, and the Banque de France’s most recent involvement since the end of March has been very effective and widely acknowledged by industry professionals.

Ah even better he has been able to give himself a slap on the back as well.

He is eyeing even more.

With its new Main Street Lending Program, the Fed recently went a step further by giving itself the possibility to fund the purchases of bank loans to businesses, via a special-purpose vehicle created with a US Treasury Department guarantee

If banks are bad, why are we subsidising them so much? Also why would central banks full of banks be any better?

After sillier let us have silliest.

ECB’s Villeroy: Would Not Put At Forefront Likelihood Of Buying Up Equities ( @LiveSquawk )

Comment

There is a familiar feel to this as we observe central bankers twisting and turning to justify where they find themselves. Let me start with something which in their own terms has been a basic failure.

This sluggishness in prices comes after a decade of persistently below-target inflation, which has averaged 1.3%.

This provides a range of contexts as of course the inflation picture would look very different if they made any real effort to measure  the one third or so of expenditure that goes on housing costs. In other areas this would be a scandal as imagine how ignoring a third of Covid-19 cases would be received? Also you might think that such failure after negative interest-rates and 2.8 billion Euros of QE might lead to a deeper rethink. This policy effort has in fact ended up really being about what was denied in this speech which is reducing bond yields so governments can borrow more cheaply. The hints in it have helped the ten-year yield in Italy fall to 1.55% as I type this.

Oh the subject of the ECB buying equities I am reminded that I suggested on the 2nd of March it would be next to make that leap of faith. I still think it is in the running however the German Constitutional Court may have slowed it up. The hint has helped the Euro Stoxx 50 go above 3000 today as equity markets continue to be pumped up on liquidity and promises. But more deeply we see that if we look at Japan what has been achieved by the equity buying? The rich have got richer but the economy has not seen any boost and in fact pre this crisis was in fact doing worse. So he is singing along with Bonnie Tyler.

I was lost in France
In the fields the birds were singing
I was lost in France
And the day was just beginning
As I stood there in the morning rain
I had a feeling I can’t explain
I was lost in France in love