February 26, 2021

Europe’s Big Central Banks Hold Interest Rates Steady

The move came shortly after the Bank of England decided to leave its benchmark interest rate unchanged at 0.5 percent to help the weakening British economy, amid concerns that Europe’s debt crisis might become more of a drag on growth.

The E.C.B. left its main rate at 1.5 percent, as expected, a level that some analysts consider to be too high now that indicators are pointing to stagnant growth or even a recession in the euro area, and sovereign debt worries threaten a renewed financial crisis.

The E.C.B. raised rates from a record low of 1 percent in April and again in July, each time by a quarter of a percentage point, to combat what it said were signs of inflation. Analysts would have been surprised if the bank reversed itself. But many expect the bank to signal that it will not raise rates again for some time.

“We expect the ECB to indicate it has reached an early halt to its policy rate hiking cycle,” economists at Royal Bank of Scotland said in a research report Wednesday.

The E.C.B. president, Jean-Claude Trichet, was to hold his customary news conference at 2:30 p.m. Frankfurt time.

As he nears the end of his term leading the E.C.B., the bank is on the front lines of the most acute crisis the euro has ever seen. Some European banks are struggling to borrow on the interbank market because of questions about their solvency; the E.C.B. is keeping them afloat by providing them with emergency low-cost loans. The E.C.B. is also buying Spanish and Italian bonds on the open market to stem pressure on their borrowing costs, which threatened to reach ruinous levels.

Some analysts argue that the bank needs to go further and aggressively cut rates to avert recession, even though it only recently raised rates.

“The E.C.B. is the only policymaking institution with any room to maneuver. It should use it to the full,” said Marie Diron, an economist who advises consulting firm Ernst Young. “But,” she wrote in an e-mail, “there is a risk that due to divisions within the governing council, the E.C.B. will not take such steps.”

Several members of the council, including Jens Weidmann, president of the German Bundesbank, are known to oppose the E.C.B. intervention in bond markets, arguing that the bank has exceeded its mandate by becoming involved in government fiscal policy.

Mr. Trichet’s press conference will be his second-to-last such appearance before he turns over the job to Mario Draghi, the governor of the Bank of Italy, at the end of October. He will certainly be asked about the E.C.B.’s stance toward interest rates, its bond-buying program, and whether it might take further steps to provide banks with emergency cash.

But with events moving so swiftly, analysts at the Royal Bank of Scotland said, it may be difficult even for Mr. Trichet to accurately predict what the E.C.B. may do.

“Given how quickly the situation has deteriorated over the past month, we do not believe the E.C.B. will be in a position to provide much credible forward-looking guidance,” the R.B.S. analysts wrote. “Like many it has been surprised by the relentless pressure by the market to continue testing the system.”

The British central bank, in addition to keeping its main rate at a record low, also left its asset purchasing program at £200 billion, or $319 billion. Some economists had said earlier that the Bank of England could resume its bond purchasing program, or so-called quantitative easing, as early as this week, to try to stimulate the economy by injecting more money into the market.

In Britain, inflation has put the squeeze on consumers, who in turn curbed spending because of concern about rising unemployment and cuts in public spending. Businesses also became more reluctant to invest and more recently exports have suffered as economies in the country’s biggest market — the euro area — slowed.

“One by one, Britain’s engines of growth are coming to a halt,” Philip Shaw, chief economist at Investec in London, said. “If indicators continue on that path it’s feasible we’ll see more quantitative easing soon.”

Goldman Sachs said on Monday that it believed the Bank of England could resume buying bonds in the coming months, most likely in November.

Other central bank policy makers also have discussed the need for more stimulus. In the United States, some Federal Reserve policy makers said last month that the current economic slowdown would justify “a more substantial move.” Fed officials have discussed the option of buying more government bonds and other tools, and were to take the issue up again at their next meeting later this month.

Adam Posen was the only member of the Bank of England monetary policy committee who repeatedly voted in favor of more quantitative easing, arguing that the economic recovery was not strong enough to withstand the large public spending cuts underway, the biggest since World War II.

George Osborne, the chancellor of the Exchequer, admitted in a speech on Tuesday evening that the economy was growing more slowly than predicted in March. But he said it was still flexible enough to withstand the government’s wide-ranging austerity measures.

Mr. Osborne said Britain’s economy was “not immune from events around the world” and that “These are very unsettling times for the global economy.”

Signs that Britain’s economy was weakening have mounted. House prices fell in August, the first drop in four months, and consumer sentiment declined. Dixons, the electronic goods retailer, said Wednesday that sales fell 7 percent in the three months through July 23, and Thorntons, the British chocolate maker, reported a full-year loss compared with a profit a year earlier.

Manufacturing increased 0.1 percent in July from the previous month, according to the Office for National Statistics. Some economists predict the Bank of England would keep interest rates at a record low for another year after Britain’s economic growth slowed to 0.2 percent in the second quarter.

Julia Werdigier reported from London.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=e403f896d66c7d00c70974131edd0bed

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