ECB Gives Banks 18 Billion Euros in Loans Aimed at Real Economy

The European Central Bank handed 18.3 billion euros ($20 billion) to euro-area lenders in the sixth round of its long-term loan program aimed at channeling money into the real economy.

The take-up compares with the 15.5 billion euros the ECB lent in a similar operation in September and the 74 billion euros handed out in June. Banks have now taken a total of 419 billion euros since the first offer was made in September 2014.

ECB President Mario Draghi announced the Targeted Longer-Term Refinancing Operations as part of a package aimed at boosting euro-area inflation and supporting lending to fuel the recovery. While the TLTROs are now dwarfed by a bond-buying program that will see the ECB and national central banks spend at least 1.5 trillion euros, they give a signal of banks’ willingness to bet on the region’s economic upswing.

“TLTROs have had their fair share in improving the credit outlook in the euro area but banks now have probably less appetite for it than in the past,” said Maxime Sbaihi, an economist at Bloomberg Intelligence in London. “First, because this is the sixth allotment and therefore most of the take-up opportunity has already been used. Second, because excess liquidity continues to be on the rise.”

Excess liquidity in the euro area has jumped to almost 600 billion euros from less than 71 billion euros in November 2014, giving banks easier access to market financing. Lending is growing amid a steady, if fragile, economic recovery. Loans to non-financial corporations in the region rose 0.5 percent in October from a year earlier, the fastest pace since early 2012.

The TLTROs are directly tied to loan growth. Under current operations, banks can borrow as much as three times their net lending to companies and households, excluding mortgages over a set period.

Since March, the ECB has offered the TLTRO funds at the main refinancing rate of 0.05 percent, abolishing the premium of 10 basis points it charged in the first two rounds. The operations are quarterly, and all the loans mature in September 2018.

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