ECB Patience Test: Euro-Area Inflation Seen Sticking Low

Photographer: Martin Leissl/Bloomberg

The ECB headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany. Close

The ECB headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany.

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Photographer: Martin Leissl/Bloomberg

The ECB headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany.

When the European Central Bank unleashed a stimulus barrage in June, it cautioned that the economy would take some time to respond. Data due this week may test its patience.

The inflation rate remained at 0.5 percent for a third month in July, according to the median forecast of 42 economists in a Bloomberg survey. The unemployment rate remained unchanged at 11.6 percent in June, a separate survey shows. That may fuel policy makers’ concern that annual price gains will become entrenched at a fraction of the ECB’s goal of just under 2 percent, and increase calls for further action.

The ECB unveiled a range of measures including a negative deposit rate and targeted long-term loans last month. While the package has helped push the average yield on bonds from Europe’s most-indebted nations to a record low and bolstered manufacturing and services in a vote of confidence, it has yet to show its impact on prices, growth and lending, as geopolitical tensions threaten to undermine the recovery.

“Speculation about an asset-purchase program from the ECB is likely to gain further traction,” said Benjamin Schroeder, an interest-rates strategist at Commerzbank AG in Frankfurt. “The crises in Ukraine and the Middle East should remain a driving factor” for the euro-area economy, he said.

Photographer: Martin Leissl/Bloomberg

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi adjusts his paperwork ahead of a news conference to announce the bank's interest rate decision in Frankfurt, on Thursday, July 3, 2014. Close

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi adjusts his paperwork ahead of a news... Read More

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Photographer: Martin Leissl/Bloomberg

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi adjusts his paperwork ahead of a news conference to announce the bank's interest rate decision in Frankfurt, on Thursday, July 3, 2014.

The European Union’s statistics office is due to release inflation and jobless data on July 31 at 11 a.m. in Luxembourg. These releases will be preceded on July 30 by reports on euro-area business confidence at 11 a.m. and German inflation at 2 p.m.

Economic Destiny

The destiny of the euro area hinges on Europe’s largest economy, which saw gross domestic product growing 0.8 percent in the first quarter, four times the currency bloc’s rate.

The Bundesbank has warned that political uncertainty in some of the country’s export markets may weigh on business and said that the economy may have stagnated in the second quarter. Sentiment as measured by the Ifo research institute dropped more than economists predicted in July to the lowest level in nine months.

Even so, gauges of German manufacturing and services output signal a rebound in activity to levels seen at the beginning of the year, Markit Economics said last week. Similar measures for the euro area also strengthened this month in a sign of confidence that ECB stimulus will eventually support the recovery.

Geopolitical Tensions

“It is encouraging to see that the recovery in survey indicators remains reasonably resilient to rising geopolitical tensions and weak growth in global trade,” said Marco Valli, chief euro-area economist at UniCredit Bank AG in Milan, who sees “hard data gradually rising towards the more upbeat survey numbers.”

The ECB predicts the euro-area economy will grow 1 percent this year, 1.7 percent next year and 1.8 percent in 2016. It expects inflation to rise gradually over the next two years to 1.4 percent in 2016.

“The combination of monetary policy measures decided last month has already led to a further easing of the monetary policy stance,” Draghi said on July 3.

The rate banks charge each other for overnight lending has averaged at 0.04 percent so far this month, compared with 0.26 percent in May, before the package was announced. The rate was at 0.043 percent on July 25.

Fresh stimulus has also fueled a rally in bonds that cut Spanish 10-year borrowing costs to a record 2.524 percent last week and helped Italian debt of the same maturity drop for the most consecutive days since 2005.

Bank Lending

Lending to companies and households, which the ECB has identified as key impediment to the region’s recovery, hasn’t yet improved. Loans shrank 1.7 percent in June from a year earlier, recording the 26th consecutive contraction. The ECB’s Bank Lending Survey, to be published on July 30, will show whether supply or demand is to be blamed.

Policy makers have placed their hopes on a targeted lending program offering banks low-cost funds for as long as four years that could, according to Draghi, inject as much as 1 trillion euros ($1.34 trillion) into the financial system.

“Let’s focus on getting these existing, newly announced measures going” before introducing additional policy action, ECB Governing Council member Ardo Hansson said in an interview on July 16. “It’s worth preparing, it’s worth having more tools, but I don’t think quantitative easing is a tool that’s needed right now.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Stefan Riecher in Frankfurt at sriecher@bloomberg.net; Giovanni Salzano in Rome at gsalzano@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Patrick Henry at phenry8@bloomberg.net Jana Randow

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