Photographer: Akos Stiller/Bloomberg

ECB Throws Twelfth Zero at Inflation

Policy makers are flooding financial markets with liquidity to meet their price-stability mandate

The European Central Bank has added a digit to its odometer to read 1,000,000,000,000. Euros, not kilometers.

That's the amount of excess liquidity now sloshing through the financial system -- equivalent to almost 3,000 euros ($3,360) for each of the 340 million people in the 19-nation region. 

The money is created by the ECB through a program of quantitative easing and bank loans, and is aimed at bringing inflation closer to its goal of just under 2 percent. It's labeled "excess" because it's the amount over and above what's immediately needed by the banking system to serve the economy. That's why it's inflationary.

But no matter how often the money is lent to companies and households, at the end of each day it lands at the central bank where commercial institutions have their accounts. And because the ECB's stimulus package also includes a negative deposit rate of 0.4 percent, lenders are charged for that surplus cash.

With excess liquidity passing 1 trillion euros as of Sept. 1, the ECB now makes more than 11 million euros a day in interest from the deposit facility alone. Though that's just a fraction of the institution's revenue. 

"Earnings related to QE are more decisive for net income," said Michael Schubert, an economist at Commerzbank in Frankfurt. "It was the bigger factor in the past years."

There is no single profit and loss account for the 19 national central banks and the ECB; everyone publishes their own. Germany's Bundesbank, which implements monetary policy in Europe's largest economy,  made 248 million euros last year from charging interest for deposits and nearly 2 billion euros from past and present asset-purchase programs.

The central banks don't get to pocket much of the cash though. While some of it may be used to provision for bad times, most of it finds its way into the budgets of the region's finance ministers. 

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE