Five Questions for Mario Draghi on Inflation, the Euro and QE

ECB President Mario Draghi

ECB President Mario Draghi

Photographer: Ralph Orlowski/Bloomberg
  • ECB announces interest-rate decision at 1:45 p.m. CET
  • Draghi holds press conference near Valletta 45 minutes later

Here are five things to watch for from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi on Thursday:

Where’s inflation?

Consumer prices in the 19-nation currency bloc unexpectedly declined in September for the first time since the ECB started its 1.1 trillion-euro ($1.2 trillion) quantitative-easing program. In a sign that the renewed slump was driven by energy costs, core inflation remained unchanged at 0.9 percent. Gauges of underlying price pressures even point to a moderate revival in inflation.

The ECB will publish updated forecasts in December. While some economists say they may have to be revised down, the main drag on inflation -- oil -- is holding above the level the central bank factored into its September predictions for this year. A barrel of Brent crude has cost an average of $56.11 so far this year, while ECB projections assume a price of $55.30.

Will QE be tweaked?

More than 80 percent of the analysts surveyed by Bloomberg from Oct. 9 to Oct. 15 said yes, even though more than half of those forecast that the Governing Council would wait until the next policy meeting on Dec. 3 and most of the rest predict action at an even later date. Since Draghi’s last press conference in September, more than half of his 24 colleagues have said it’s too early to decide whether more stimulus is needed.

Options to boost purchases range from an extension of the program beyond September 2016, by a few months or indefinitely, to expanding the monthly size.

Will the ECB broaden its list of eligible assets?

The ECB says purchases are proceeding smoothly, with no shortages in sight. Even so, the central bank has expanded the list of eligible government agencies twice already. In July, it added the Italian utilities Enel SpA, Snam SpA and Terna Rete Elettrica Nazionale SpA, which are partly state-owned. Adding other such European companies like Electricite de France SA would make a pool of 140 billion euros of purchasable assets available, according to calculations by Hyung-Ja de Zeeuw at ABN Amro Bank NV.

Will the deposit rate be cut again?

After Draghi lowered the deposit rate to minus 0.2 percent last year, he said that it has reached its floor and “technical adjustments are not going to be possible any longer.” His insistence that policy makers are ready to use “all the instruments available” to the ECB had investors and economists speculating that a move is in fact on the cards. Other central banks such as the Swiss National Bank have gone much further than the ECB. Draghi’s counterpart Thomas Jordan charges 0.75 percent.

Which role does the exchange rate play in all of this?

The euro has appreciated almost 5 percent against the dollar and 4 percent against a basket of currencies since mid-July as investors seek a haven from financial-market turmoil and weaker growth in emerging economies. That makes commodity imports even cheaper and euro-area exports more expensive, weighing on the region’s fragile recovery. Policy makers seem to have drawn a $1.14 line in the sand, according to Bloomberg strategist Vassilis Karamanis, who points to verbal interventions whenever the common currency closed higher.

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