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12/4/16

EU: ECB caught in monetary policy maelstrom

The European Central Bank (ECB) has done everything in its power to fuel inflation and boost economic growth, but has had limited success. Now, risks and side effects are becoming more evident.

During the height of the euro crisis in the summer of 2012, European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi pledged he would save the euro "whatever it takes." His rhetoric abruptly quieted down financial speculation against several eurozone member states.

Thereafter, the ECB cut interest rates until its key refinancing rate hit zero percent this spring. In addition, commercial banks holding money with the ECB are being punished with a negative deposit rate. Moreover, the central bank supports struggling banks with emergency loans and free credit. After all, the ECB has launched a massive asset-buying program, also known as Quantitative Easing (QE) in the spring of 2015, meaning the bank acquires government and company debts at large scale, thus effectively printing and circulating more and more money.

Not surprisingly, Draghi appears happy with his extremely accomodative monetary policy. After all, inflation, credit volume and economic growth have all been on the rise in the eurozone, if only modestly. But take a closer look and it's hard to share Draghi's optimism. The return of inflation at very low levels - the last number was 0.5 percent - can be primarily traced back to rebounding price of crude oil and groceries.

By contrast, eurozone members fiscal policies have had precious little little effect on those mark-ups. The gush of newly-minted euros, instead, is keeping "zombie banks" and "zombi companies" artificially alive, as it fails to kickstart anemic growth in the euro currency area..

It isn't entirely speculative, therefore, that the ECB's monetary policy is part of the problem, not the solution. Deutsche Bank economist Stefan Schneider told DW that the willingness of eurozone governments to reform their economies has "markedly dropped after Draghi's whatever-it-takes announcement, especially in countries at the bloc's southern periphery" - a fact that has also been substantiated by OECD analyses, he adds.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has found that higher interest rates before the 2012 debt crisis, had forced governments of crisis states to implement more than half of OECD's recommended growth initiatives. Last year, however, this share dropped to below 20 percent. This shouldn't come as a surprise: Draghi's promise, in conjunction with the bond purchase program, has minimized the difference in interest rates between German sovereign debt and those of crisis-hit states in the south of Europe. Without psychological strains, it is doubtful that politicians will go through with unpopular reforms when there is no fiscal pressure.

Read more: ECB caught in monetary policy maelstrom | NRS-Import | DW.COM | 02.12.2016

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