EU stocks fall over ECB's 'timid' measures

Some analysts said European Central Bank president Mario Draghi may have been unable to persuade some members of the bank's governing council that more stimulus was necessary.
Some analysts said European Central Bank president Mario Draghi may have been unable to persuade some members of the bank's governing council that more stimulus was necessary.PHOTO: REUTERS

FRANKFURT • Mr Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank (ECB), is regarded as a master of the dark art of managing market expectations.

But the reaction to stimulus measures the central bank announced on Thursday - steps more timid than had been widely expected - suggested Mr Draghi, somehow, miscommunicated with the traders, pundits and prognosticators who set the course of financial markets.

Around Europe, stock prices fell on Thursday after the ECB said it would extend its programme of buying bonds and other assets by six months, but would not raise the amount of monthly purchases. It also changed a key interest rate to encourage banks to lend more, but did not cut key borrowing rates.

Based on recent statements by Mr Draghi and other top officials at the ECB, investors had thought there would be much more.

"He typically has underpromised and overdelivered," said Mr Mujtaba Rahman, practice head for Europe at the consultancy firm Eurasia Group. "That is not the case this time around. What we've got is the bare minimum of what people were expecting."

It was either a rare case of Mr Draghi failing to send clear enough signals, or a sign that his proposals had met unexpected resistance among the 25 members of the ECB's governing council, which met on Thursday morning. At a news conference, Mr Draghi would say only that the moves had been approved by a "very large majority" of the council.

The ECB is trying to give the lumbering euro-zone economy a shove at the same time as the Federal Reserve is getting ready to risk slowing down the United States economy by raising interest rates.

The euro-zone economy grew at an annual rate of 1.2 per cent in the third quarter - compared with a 2.1 per cent rate in the US. And unemployment across the euro currency union is 10.7 per cent - more than double the US' jobless figure.

Mr Draghi described the steps as a recalibration of the ECB's stimulus programme, which he said had been a success since it began in March. "We are doing more because it works, not because it fails," he said. "We want to consolidate something that has been a success."

But some analysts said Mr Draghi may have been unable to win over those on the governing council who think more stimulus is unnecessary, or who want to keep some monetary weapons in reserve in case the economic situation worsens.

Mr Draghi acknowledged that terrorist attacks in Paris, along with the influx of migrants from Syria to Europe, presented risks to the euro-zone economy that are not yet possible to gauge.

The governing council did decide to extend monthly purchases of government bonds and other assets, a way of pumping money into the economy, at least through March 2017. The ECB also said it would raise the penalty it charges banks to keep money in its vaults as a way of pressuring them to lend more.

And it expanded its purchases of bonds to include debt issued by regional and local governments.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2015, with the headline 'EU stocks fall over ECB's 'timid' measures'. Subscribe