Battle to boost eurozone in doubt despite ECB bazooka

A long battle to avert deflation and jumpstart the 19-nation eurozone economy is far from over despite an unprecedented barrage of stimulus measures by the European Central Bank, analysts warn.

AFP| Last Updated: Mar 11, 2016, 23:50 PM IST
Battle to boost eurozone in doubt despite ECB bazooka

Paris: A long battle to avert deflation and jumpstart the 19-nation eurozone economy is far from over despite an unprecedented barrage of stimulus measures by the European Central Bank, analysts warn.

The ECB surprised financial markets with the scale of the measures it announced Thursday -- with a key interest rate dipping deeper into negative territory and a bond-buying programme ballooning to more than 1.7 trillion euros ($1.9 trillion) and expanding to encompass investment-grade corporate debt for the first time.

But the final impact of the ECB action on the real economy remains in doubt, economists say, with eurozone inflation subdued and economic growth in much of the region anaemic despite all the bank`s previous efforts.

Despite its "inventiveness", the ECB`s efforts were not translating efficiently into results, said Ludovic Subran, chief economist at credit insurance group Euler Hermes.

Given its past record, the ECB`s latest policy may have a limited effect beyond simply signalling its willingness to act, New York-based credit rating agency Moody`s Investors Service said in a report.

The ECB`s "quantitative easing" programme -- in which it buys bonds with money that it creates electronically -- had now grown from 1.1 trillion euros to a total of more than 1.7 trillion euros, it said.

"While these new operations may lower financing cost for banks, they are unlikely to boost bank lending across the euro area, as liquidity has not been a key constraint for many banks," Moody`s said.

The programme could have a "significant" positive impact if it succeeds in boosting economic growth and inflation, the agency said.

"However, given the relative lack of efficacy thus far, perhaps the most positive aspect is the ECB`s continued willingness to take further action to try and boost growth and inflation in the euro area," it said.

The ECB`s latest salvo demonstrates that it still has ammunition in its arsenal, said Capital Economics analyst Jonathan Loynes.

"But it can`t win the battle on its own," he added.

"We have long warned that monetary policy cannot address all of the deep-seated problems facing the currency union, including the fundamental lack of competitiveness of the peripheral countries and structurally weak growth in the core," Loynes said.

Jan Randolph, director of sovereign risk analysis at IHS in London, agreed,

The ECB probably has more room for "unorthodox" monetary policy than many investors believed, he said.

At the same time, Randolph said, the room for many eurozone countries to boost activity by spending is limited because they risk scaring away investors if they let budget deficits run out of control.

"I think the Bank would say it is really up to governments to do much more on structural reforms," Randolph told AFP, notably making labour and products more flexible so as to raise potential economic growth rates. 

Deutsche Bank economist Mark Wall welcomed the ECB`s stimulus package, noting that it attempts to pass low borrowing costs into the real economy by rewarding those commercial banks that lend the most and by directly purchasing corporate debt.

"It remains the case that ECB monetary policy could benefit from more support from the other branches of domestic policy, such as fiscal policy," he conceded in a report.

"But the latest package of easing measures from the ECB substantially leans against the risk that lending standards tighten and threaten the domestic economic recovery."