NEWS Breaking news

The ECB keeps its hands on monetary policy

As expected the ECB has maintained the level of its three interest rates and reduced the size of its asset purchase programme (APP).

The refi rate is still at 0%, the deposit facility rate at -0.40% and the marginal lending facility rate at 0.25%. They will remain at this level way after the ECB will have stopped its asset purchase programme.

This latter has been reduced to EUR 30bn per month from January 2018 until September 2018 except if the profile of inflation doesn't follow the trajectory as expected by the central bank. In that case the programme could be extended in size and/or duration. (that could be the case as the ECB forecast for the inflation rate is just 1.5% in 2019 (the core inflation rate is also expected at 1.5%). This is way below the target at close but below 2%)).

There are no changes in the forward guidance: 1 - the ECB keeps open the possibility to increase the amount purchased or to extend the period on which it purchases assets. 2- The interest rate will increase only way after the end of the asset purchase programme. It means that Draghi will not not necessarily hike interest rates before the end of his mandate in October 2019.

The ECB will reinvest all the proceeds of its portfolio. It will give details on the 12 month profile of these reinvestments when it will be necessary.

The ECB has not discussed the composition of its APP (between sovereign and corporate bonds) and Draghi said that the APP process was flexible enough to manage the technical constraints that can be faced (not enough bonds to buy in Germany). He didn't go further in the discussion.

The ECB is doing like the Fed: it doesn't want to surprize investors by its decision. No one is surprised by the reduction in the level of the asset purchase programme. The question was on the amount and on the period. But the choice was limited as the ECB gave the open options in the minutes of its last meeting. Moreover speeches from ECB members were transparent on what they could do.

The main surprise is the stability of the forward guidance. Therefore the change in the APP level appears as a technical adjustment and not as a change in the monetary policy stance.

The ECB doesn't want to tie its hands in the conduct of its monetary policy. It doesn't want to create the possibility of divergent expectations on investors side. Therefore the forward guidance remains unchanged but this guidance can be changed by the ECB itself without investors pressure. The balance of strength is still on the ECB side and this will not change in coming months. We will still depend on what they want to say, not the reverse.

Philippe Waechter - Chief economist - Natixis Asset Management