Despite the ECB's recent "stunning" rate cut, which sent the EUR modestly lower by a few hundred pips, the resultant resurge in the European currency has left the European Central Bank even more stunned: just what does it have to do to force its currency lower and boost Europe's peripheral economies, especially in a world in which every other major central banks is printing boatloads of money each and every month?
We hinted at precisely what the next steps will be two days ago when in "Next From The ECB: Here Comes QE, According To BNP" we said "BNP is ultimately correct as the European experiment will require every weapon in the ECB's arsenal, and sooner or later the ECB, too, will succumb to the same monetary lunacy that has gripped the rest of the developed world in the ongoing "all in" bet to reflate or bust. All logical arguments that outright monetization of bonds are prohibited by various European charters will be ignored: after all, there is "political capital" at stake, and as Mario Draghi has made it clear there is no "Plan B." Which means the only question is when will Europe join the lunaprint asylum: for the sake of the systemic reset we hope the answer is sooner rather than later."
Two days later the answer just appeared when moments ago the WSJ reported that the ECB's Praet hinted more QE is, just as we predicted, on the table.
The European Central Bank could adopt negative interest rates or purchase assets from banks if needed to lift inflation closer to its target, a top ECB official said, rebutting concerns that the central bank is running out of tools or is unwilling to use them.
"If our mandate is at risk we are going to take all the measures that we think we should take to fulfill that mandate. That's a very clear signal," ECB executive board member Peter Praet said in an interview Tuesday with The Wall Street Journal. Annual inflation in the euro zone slowed to 0.7% in October, far below the central bank's target of just below 2% over the medium term.
He didn't rule out what some analysts see as the strongest, and most controversial, option: purchases of assets from banks to reduce borrowing costs in the private sector. "The balance-sheet capacity of the central bank can also be used," said Mr. Praet, whose views carry added weight as he also heads the ECB's powerful economics division. "This includes outright purchases that any central bank can do."
The ECB could do more if necessary, Mr. Praet said. "On standard measures, interest rates, we still have room and that would also include the deposit facility," he said. The central bank's deposit rate has been set at zero for several months. Making it negative would effectively levy a fee on commercial banks that park funds at the ECB.
The ECB purchased safe bank bonds and government bonds at the height of the global financial crisis and the euro debt crisis, but in small amounts compared with other major central banks.
Of course, there are some legal hurdles:
The ECB's charter forbids it from financing governments.
But, wily as always, the ECB appears to have found a loophole:
The ECB must respect its legal constraints, Mr. Praet said, however its rules "do not exclude that you intervene in the markets outright."
And sure enough, the Euro tumbles just as mandated by the ECB's talking head: let's see if it actually stays lower this time.
And now check to the Germans, who will be positively giddy that first Europe accused it of unfair export-led growth, and now the ECB is openly contemplating tearing off the Weimar scab.
Looks like things in Europe are about to get exciting all over again.