Five Things to Ask Mario Draghi Today From Oil to Negative Rates

  • Economists expect ECB to leave rates unchanged at meeting
  • ECB President Draghi to brief press at 2:30 p.m. in Frankfurt

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

How much is oil affecting the inflation outlook?

The oil slump has undercut the ECB’s most recent forecasts. A barrel of Brent crude is now trading at just over half of what was assumed in December, making obsolete the central bank’s prediction that inflation would average 1 percent this year.

In fact, some banks see prices in the euro area dropping in the coming months, and Barclays forecasts that inflation will average just 0.1 percent in 2016. Even more worrying for the ECB is that inflation expectations have recently mirrored movements in oil -- a sign that markets have started to doubt the central bank’s capacity to bring price growth back in line with its mandate.

What does that mean for ECB policy?

Slower inflation, an appreciating euro and the prospects of weaker global growth heap pressure on Draghi to ease again. Most analysts polled by Bloomberg see action coming in March -- when the ECB will publish updated forecasts -- or in June. That stimulus could take the form of a further cut to the deposit rate or of an expansion of monthly QE purchases.

Not a single economist in a separate Bloomberg survey sees a rate cut at the ECB’s first monetary-policy decision of the year on Thursday. At the press conference, Draghi will likely try to sound dovish while defending the impact of the last policy package in December. Those measures -- a cut to the deposit rate to minus 0.3 percent, extending QE until March 2017 and the a commitment to reinvest the principal of maturing bonds -- disappointed markets.

Can Draghi pull together a majority for more action?

The account of the Dec. 3 Governing Council meeting showed increasingly diverging opinions among officials about the ECB’s policy path. Some governors opposed all new stimulus, others wanted even more aggressive action, while a few were inclined, on balance, to back a more negative deposit rate rather than more asset purchases.

This may pose a challenge for Draghi if more stimulus is needed. In their debates, policy makers will probably look more and more closely to core inflation -- which strips out volatile elements such as energy and food -- to gauge if the oil slump is being passed through to the wider economy.

How dependent is ECB on the rest of the world?

The International Monetary Fund reduced its forecast for 2016 global growth to 3.4 percent from 3.6 percent, on the back of weaker emerging markets. A significant slowdown in China, which recorded the slowest growth in 25 years in 2015, is one of the main risks for euro-area exporters.

At the same time, the slump in oil has proven a boon for the region’s consumers and, with crude showing no sign of a significant rally, domestic demand is likely to continue to drive growth.

What about banking union?

While lenders continue to slowly expand credit to support the region’s recovery, bank stocks have underperformed other equities, in a sign that the industry remains fragile.

The ECB, which took over banking supervision in the region in 2014, has pushed for a euro-area deposit-guarantee scheme, but politicians have so far shown little will to push through new reforms, and several countries have tried to limit the reach of recently agreed rules on bail-in and resolution. Draghi may renew his call for strengthening the institutional set-up of the common currency -- something he has asked for repeatedly in recent months, so far with little success.

— With assistance by Andre Tartar, and Kristian Siedenburg

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