Cross-posted from Lex Live — which is Lex’s new, free (you don’t even have to register) blog giving an insight on what Lex writers are reading and thinking…
Before we get into this it might be worth opening the transcript of Thursday’s ECB presser and Q&A with Mario Draghi and doing a “ctrl+f” for the phrase “structural reform”.
TL;DR: the answer is 19. (h/t to Aurelija Augulyte). There 15 mentions in August, and 5 in July.
But what’s a central banker to do? As Marc Ostwald at ADM Investor Services International says, “one cannot stress enough that believing that France and Italy will deliver meaningful (and indeed ‘growth friendly) reforms is an act of faith, for which there is little or no historical precedent.” Read more
Some pre-ECB musings from Lombard Street’s Dario Perkins (with our emphasis):
Market economists remain divided on the issue of whether the ECB will do QE, not because they disagree about whether it is needed – here there is near unanimity – but because they aren’t sure Mr Draghi can overcome philosophical and technical opposition from some of his colleagues…
Fortunately, those opposed to QE at the Bank seem to have softened their stance a little recently.
A week ago, Mario Draghi set euro policy-watchers all a-flutter, departing from his prepared remarks at Jackson Hole to issue a kind of blunt confession that he and his colleagues had run out of excuses for the ongoing depressed level of inflation across the eurozone, and that maybe some sort of reaction was required. Cue a quall of ECB QE speculation.
Then, on Wednesday this week, a story appeared on Reuters stating that, according to “ECB sources,” there was unlikely to be any new policy action from the ECB at its September meeting next week unless August inflation figures (published on Friday) showed the eurozone sinking significantly towards deflation.
The story remained exclusive to Reuters. But the message was clear: ECB officials are worried that market participants were reading too-much-too-soon into Draghi ad-libbing. Read more
Beat Siegenthaler, FX strategist at UBS, has been wondering about what the Swiss National Bank may do if the ECB’s measures to weaken the euro begin to test its 1.20 EURCHF floor.
He notes, for example, that there has already been a marked divergence between the EURCHF and the USDCHF:
Interest rates are very likely to remain unchanged at record lows and little is expected on the central bank’s plans to buy asset-backed securities or embark on full-scale quantitative easing.
The decision is out at 12.45pm UK time. Read more
A tale of missed opportunity. Denial. Oh, and possibly even certain death?
George Saravelos at Deutsche Bank looks at what are fast becoming intensifying euro outflows and wonders if it could amount to an important idiosyncratic driver for global markets. Yesterday, for example, the market witnessed a record euro liquidation day.
As Saravelos writes:
The drivers behind this are likely diverse – profit taking after an extended streak of inflows; geopolitical worries concentrated on Russia; contagion from broader risk-aversion. Cause notwithstanding, the concentrated nature of euro weakness and the breakdown in correlation with US yields strongly points to these “capital-flight” flows being an important idiosyncratic driver. The outflows have been larger than I would have expected, but until they stabilize, they will likely serve as an ongoing source of pressure on the euro and European currencies more broadly.
The deadline for European institutions to be compliant with the Single European Payment Area (SEPA) standard came and went on August 1.
In theory, that means anyone in Europe should from now on be able to make and receive payments across the union on an entirely frictionless basis. For the euro project it’s the realisation of one of the system’s key objectives.
As the ECB noted:
It allows businesses to grow and to broaden their reach within Europe, and reduces costs by providing a standardised framework for all their payments. Businesses can now use a single system and set of accounts for all their euro trade in Europe.
Some 231 pages of macroeconomic goodness has landed from the ECB. Click for the full July bulletin.
We turned straight to page 50, and the examination of predictions for economic recovery after recessions.
Gary Jenkins at LNG Capital brings us news on Wednesday that… yes, peripheral eurozone bond yields are or in some cases are just about to trade through US Treasuries.
But why should we be shocked about this?
Or as he puts it:
There has been a few headlines recently which suggested that we should be shocked that Spanish 10 year government bond yields now trade through treasuries and that the Italian equivalent is just a few basis points away. I think that these Eurozone countries should trade through treasuries. I think Portuguese bonds should do the same. Greece? Not so much… The fact is that since Mario Draghi started acting like a modern day central banker and the leading politicians looked into the abyss of what the default of a major European country like Spain might look like the yields on the so called ‘periphery’ European bonds have been converging with those of the core at a rapid rate.
For all practical purposes we have reached the lower bound…
Are we finished? The answer is no… within our mandate, we’re not finished yet.
Both were statements by Mario Draghi on Thursday. It’s really the swarming effect of the policies the ECB announced on Thursday, after all, right? Not so much the Outright Monetary Transaction-style bravura, which (let’s not forget) the market also underestimated two years ago. Read more
Here’s Nomura playing ECB ahead of Thursday’s meeting at which — in accordance with the FT and the “always listen especially carefully to Peter Praet” theory — there’s an increasing expectation that some sort of targeted LTRO is going to be announced alongside some rate cuts.
A lot of people are puzzled over why US yields are falling when nothing has changed on the Fed communication side, and QE is supposed to be slowing.
Frances Coppola notes an even stranger phenomenon. When you look at the very big picture you realise that if there is a correlation between QE and rates, it’s actually a very counterintuitive one:
Every time QE is announced, yields rise: when it ends, they fall. And no, this doesn’t just affect the 10-year yield. The same basic shape can be observed on just about any maturity over 1 year (short-term rates are propped up by the positive IOER policy).
There’s a good note from Goldman Sachs this week on the implications of negative rates at the ECB.
But given that many of the points echo much of the discussion already featured on FT Alphaville for years, we’ll cut straight to the interesting bits.
Goldman agree there isn’t anything conceptually special about negative rates because bond math works with negative numbers (as it’s focused on real returns). However, they add, there is a specific reason why negative rates might have qualitatively different macroeconomic implications, unless controls on cash were put in place with them: Read more
Some nice charts courtesy of Credit Suisse on Friday comparing European inflationary trends with those of Japan in the 1990s:
An interesting job going at the ECB? (Click for the details.)
By downplaying the adverse effects of cross-border monetary transmission of unconventional policies, we are overlooking the elephant in the post-crisis room. I see two dangers here. One is that any remaining rules of the game are breaking down. Our collective endorsement of unconventional monetary policies essentially says it is ok to distort asset prices if there are other domestic constraints to reviving growth, such as the zero-lower bound. But net spillovers, rather than fancy acronyms, should determine internationally acceptable policy.
Otherwise, countries could legitimately practice what they might call quantitative external easing or QEE, whereby they intervene to keep their exchange rate down and build huge reserves. The reason we frowned on QEE in the past is because we believed the adverse spillover effects for the rest of the world were significant. If we are unwilling, however, to evaluate all policies based on their spillover effects, there is no legitimate way multilateral institutions can declare that QEE contravenes the rules of the game. Indeed, some advanced economy central bankers have privately expressed their worry to me that QE “works” primarily by altering exchange rates, which makes it different from QEE only in degree rather than in kind.
We wonder if, after a brief blaze of real scrutiny, people have started to look past the imposition of a negative deposit rate by the ECB in favour of the more seductive and mysterious ECB QE and how it might be constructed. And we wonder if that is something of a mistake.
How a move to negative is constructed will, of course, have much to do with what it is intended to achieve — a weaker euro at last check — but we also can’t help but think it would be cool to make sure it won’t cause too much harm either. Herein lies a plan. Read more
Unanimous in its commitment to using also unconventional instruments within its mandate in order to cope effectively with risks of a too prolonged period of low inflation…
– Mario Draghi, April ECB press conference
Don’t try saying that with a mouthful of peas.
More seriously, spot the caveats. A few members of the ECB governing council have since added to the noise around ECB QE — Nowotny, Mersch, Constancio, Coeure and Weidmann — but we feel better no informed than when the presser ended on Thursday. Read more
We know who he is, we just don’t get what he’s doing. He does so like confounding expectations on his island of stability.
This time with inflation at 1 per cent there was a belief that Draghi would make some sort of compromise gesture while keeping rates on hold, even if it amounted to SMP tokenism. But, nope, he disappointed… despite the ECB’s own 2016 inflation forecast coming in well below 2 per cent. Doing nothing in the face of that isn’t exactly reassuring — it’s a lot easier to fight deflation risks than the real thing. Read more
To QE or not to QE remains the question. Comfortingly, just about everybody is united in uncertainty.
Here’s JP Morgan (our emphasis throughout):
Our own expectation is that the ECB will simply stay on hold for a very long time (at least until late 2016). If correct, it would make the coming months and quarters very uncomfortable for the central bank and it may not take much more of a disappointment in the data to trigger a small policy change. We are open-minded about this. But, unless the outlook changes very significantly, we think that any policy change will be a token gesture, rather than something substantive.
BNP Paribas: Read more
Actually, it’s a €1.5tn question… at least according to SocGen. But it’s not very clear if that matters considering the barriers to euro area QE are so high.
We don’t suppose the killer argument in favour will be that “an ECB QE programme of €1.5 trillion could lower the 10y Bund yield by 100bp, pushing it down close to the 10y yield of JGBs (0.6%)”, though it’s worth a shot. There might be more mileage in pushing the Dax angle. Read more