European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi has pledged indefinite stimulus to revive an ailing eurozone economy, tying the hands of his successor, Christine Lagarde, for years to come and sparking an immediate conflict with US president Donald Trump.
As Mr Draghi’s eight-year mandate nears its close, the ECB cut rates deeper into negative territory and promised bond purchases with no end-date to push borrowing costs even lower, hoping to kickstart the bloc nearly a decade after its debt crisis.
The bigger-than-expected stimulus will increase pressure on the US Federal Reserve and Bank of Japan to ease policy next week to support a world economy increasingly characterised by low growth and protectionist threats to free trade.
“You remember me saying that all instruments were on the table, ready to be used. Well, today we did it,” Mr Draghi told a news conference.
Yet there were doubts as to whether the ECB measures, most of the few remaining tools in its monetary policy arsenal, would be enough to boost a eurozone recovery in the face of a US-China trade war and possible disruption from Brexit.
Mr Draghi acknowledged that the ECB’s already gloomy projections did not encompass the possibility of a hard Brexit or a further escalation of the global trade war.
Yesterday’s moves also infuriated Mr Trump, who just this week called on the US Fed to adopt a negative-rate policy. “They are trying, and succeeding, in depreciating the Euro against the VERY strong Dollar, hurting US exports.... And the Fed sits, and sits, and sits. They get paid to borrow money, while we are paying interest!” Mr Trump tweeted.
A 10-basis point cut in the ECB’s deposit rate to -0.5% was fully expected but the revived bond purchases exceeded many expectations because they are set to run until “shortly before” the ECB raises interest rates.
Given that markets do not expect rates to rise for nearly a decade, such a formulation suggests that purchases could go on for years, possibly through most of Christine Lagarde’s term leading the bank.
“Today’s decisions have anchored and enshrined the Draghi legacy in future ECB decisions,” ING economist Carsten Brzeski said.
“Whatever it takes has just been extended by as long as it takes,” Mr Brzeski said, referring to the 2012 speech in which Mr Draghi promised to do “whatever it takes” to save the euro, a bold move credited with holding the crisis-hit bloc together.
While conservative ECB policymakers had spoken out against more bond purchases in recent weeks, the decision suggests some of them eventually agreed, giving Mr Draghi a majority for what is probably his last major policy move.
Underlining the need for action, the ECB cut its growth projections for this year and next, predicting growth at just above 1%, below what is considered its natural potential.
The ECB’s decision triggered a rally in eurozone bonds that will cut the cost of borrowing in the 19 countries that use the euro. The single currency itself firmed a touch after wild price swings during Mr Draghi’s news conference.
Eurozone stocks were little changed, however, highlighting investors’ doubts about the effectiveness of ECB policy, which can only prop up domestic confidence, not deliver a US-China trade deal or seal a Brexit agreement.
Indeed, Mr Draghi stepped up his rhetoric in calling for governments to spend their way out of a slowdown, singling out Germany, which is obsessed with running a balanced budget.