The ECB strategy review is just more of the same

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by Shaun Richards

This week is ECB time and this meeting is a material one on several counts. Things were revved up a bit last week by President Lagarde in interviews with Bloomberg and the Financial Times.

 we now have what I would call a simple, solid, symmetric two per cent target. So we express very firmly that we are determined to deliver two per cent. I think that is a big change.

Actually everyone thought that anyway but tucked in with it was a couple of attempts to mislead.

And maybe the really important third “s” is symmetry, because we affirm very clearly that there may be deviations up or down, either below or above two per cent and we state that we consider both deviations up or down as equally undesirable.

The new central banking mantra is to try to get inflation above target except in something of an echo of the Japanese situation there is a problem. Here is the Lagarde view.

Second, we also recognise the effectiveness of all the tools that we have in the toolbox.

Really? Let me now hand you over to Phillipe Martim a French economist in the Frankfurt Allegmeine today.

At the beginning of his theses there is a reference to “a failure” – that of the ECB. For a long time it has mostly fallen well below its self-imposed inflation target of 2 percent. “In 90 percent of the time between 2015 and today, inflation was below 1.9 percent,” states Martin; even in times of the D-Mark there was more price increase.”

Over a period in which the ECB has thrown the kitchen sink in monetary policy terms at inflation it has in general failed in its objective. Or as Phillipe puts it.

“Today the ECB already holds 25 percent of Europe’s national debt. How far should that go, about 100 percent? Will one day buy 100 percent of the Italian national debt? ”Martin emphasizes that he“ considers the worries in Germany to be legitimate ”. There is a “problem with budget discipline” when a central bank buys massive amounts of national debt. In addition, “the exit can create a crisis”.

I expect it to keep going with QE because it is caught in a trap but would advice caution with 100% numbers as there are some pension and insurance funds who have to hold bonds. So the “free float” available to be bought is probably more like 75% although we are chasing a moving target with so many being issued. As it holds around 40% ( Phillipe is behind the times) there is not the margin you might think.

But we find ourselves at the ECB probem which is that for all the hype it has a record of consistent failure regarding its inflation target. Also if you look at the growth performance of the Euro area it is in trouble too.

There was also a classic Lagarde fail.

 We are all on the same page. There’s a unanimous agreement. There is a total consensus around that foundational document, that constitution of ours.

This took us back to the early days of her Presidency when she promised to end the splits which had been seen in Mario Draghi’s tenure. Meanwhile only a day or two later.

ECB policy makers are split over changes to their language on monetary stimulus in draft documents being circulated before next week’s Governing Council meeting, sources say ( Bloomberg)

Listening To People

This has turned into something of a classic of the genre.

During the events that I participated in myself, and I heard it from other governors, key concerns revolved around, number one, climate change.

Exactly the same as Christine’s own priority. How convenient!

When it does not agree with what the ECB wants it gets neutered. So we have a good start.

The second concern that we heard loud and clear as well, was housing costs. Housing costs us a lot, we Europeans, and this was the case in many countries. Why is it not more taken into account in your measurement of inflation?

First tactic is to delay.

But second, because we know it’s going to take time,

Although as regular readers will recall we have been on this roundabout before as I followed a process which went on for 2/3 years and was then dropped. So in fact it should be quick.

But the next one is to water it down and frankly take away most of the point of doing it.

We will include housing prices through alternative indexes into our assessment of overall inflation.

The cost of owning a house, not house prices, right? 

We will include the consumption part of owning a house. So we will not include the investment part.

As you can see the interviewer saw straight through the attempt to mislead. The reason why she is dissembling is shown below.

Over the period 2010 until the first quarter of 2021, rents increased by 15.3% and house prices by 30.9%. ( Eurostat)

Deeper Negative Interest-Rates

Christine Lagarde clearly has the interest-rate issue on her mind.

given the effective low bound that we are close to, will have to continue being used.

Sadly she was not asked whether she thought it was the -0.5% Deposit Rate or the -1% rate on liquidity for banks? But we saw only a day later the ground being tilled for more,more more on her Twitter feed.

We have decided to move up a gear and start the investigation phase of the digital euro project. In the digital age people and firms should continue to have access to the safest form of money – central bank money.

Notice how it is presented as a gain for the individual which is always a be afraid, be very afraid moment. This is because it is the road to deeper negative interest-rates which Phillipe Martin would in some circumstances apply at 100%.

“If there were the digital euro, that is, the citizens had direct accounts at the central bank, that would be easy: If the money is not spent, it will expire, for example after a year.” Otherwise, prepay cards might also be distributed under certain circumstances that are invalid after one year.”

Even the IMF was only suggesting -3%.

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Producer Prices

These may well be throwing another factor into the mix. From Germany earlier.

WIESBADEN – In June 2021, the index of producer prices for industrial products increased by 8.5% compared with June 2020. As reported by the Federal Statistical Office this was the highest increase compared to the corresponding month of the preceding year since January 1982 (+8.9%), when prices rose strongly during the second oil crisis. Compared with the preceding month May 2021 the overall index rose by 1.3% in June 2021.

The real issue here is the monthly increase and they turned last December and since then have been in a range between 0.7% and 1.5%. suggesting a Yazz type situation.

The only way is up baby

Comment

Christine Lagarde finds herself in quite a mess and may even have exceeded the Grand Old Duke of York.

Oh, the grand old Duke of York
He had ten thousand men
He marched them up to the top of the hill
And he marched them down again

There was a collective failure in her appointment as after the “Euro Boom” it was considered safe to appoint someone with her track record because Mario Draghi could set policy for the opening year or two. That went wrong quite quickly.

Next comes her claim of healing divisions when it appears they have multiplied. But more importantly there is the issue of policy which is in quite a mess.  There was a signal that the main policy of PEPP bond purchases would be tapered and we were pointed towards its end date of March next year. Personally I do not believe they can stop QE as last time it lasted for only about 9 months. But some believed it with the optimistic economic forecasts.

Sadly back in the real world things are looking much more awkward with the Australian Financial Review suggesting this earlier.

The Reserve Bank will likely backflip on scaling back its $237 billion bond buying stimulus and could lift weekly purchases to $6 billion, according to leading economists including Westpac chief economist Bill Evans.

Reversing that quickly would be quite a record but as Australia has the strength of its commodities to help it, are you thinking what I am thinking? The Euro area does not have that. Will last week’s plans survive until Thursday?

Markets have picked up the pace with the German ten-year going even more negative and passing -0.4% today.

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