ECB Economic Bulletin, No. 1 - 2017

The monetary policy decisions taken in December 2016 have succeeded in preserving the very favourable financing conditions that are necessary to secure a sustained convergence of inflation rates towards levels below, but close to, 2% over the medium term. Borrowing conditions for firms and households continue to benefit from the pass-through of the ECB’s measures. As expected, headline inflation has increased recently, largely owing to base effects in energy prices, but underlying inflation pressures remain subdued. The Governing Council will continue to look through changes in HICP inflation if judged to be transient and to have no implication for the medium-term outlook for price stability.

Available global indicators point to a continued moderate rebound in world activity and trade growth towards the end of 2016. Meanwhile, global financial conditions have tightened and emerging market economies have been confronted with capital outflows. Global headline inflation has increased on the back of waning negative contributions from energy prices. Risks to the outlook for world activity remain on the downside and relate, in particular, to political uncertainty and financial imbalances.

Since the Governing Council meeting on 8 December 2016, sovereign bond yields in the euro area have declined slightly and the EONIA forward curve has edged downwards for medium-term maturities. Equity prices of non-financial corporations have risen and the spreads on corporate debt have fallen. The euro exchange rate remained broadly stable in trade-weighted terms.

The economic expansion in the euro area is proceeding and strengthening, driven mainly by domestic demand. Looking ahead, the economic expansion is expected to firm further. The pass-through of the ECB’s monetary policy measures is supporting domestic demand and facilitating the ongoing deleveraging process. The very favourable financing conditions and improvements in corporate profitability continue to promote the recovery in investment. Moreover, sustained employment gains, which are also benefiting from past structural reforms, provide support for private consumption via increases in households’ real disposable income. At the same time, there are signs of a somewhat stronger global recovery. However, economic growth in the euro area is expected to be dampened by a sluggish pace of implementation of structural reforms and remaining balance sheet adjustments in a number of sectors. The risks surrounding the euro area growth outlook remain tilted to the downside and relate predominantly to global factors.

According to Eurostat, euro area annual HICP inflation in December 2016 was 1.1%, up from 0.6% in November. This reflected mainly a strong increase in annual energy inflation, while there are no signs yet of a convincing upward trend in underlying inflation. Looking ahead, on the basis of current oil futures prices, headline inflation is likely to pick up further in the near term, largely reflecting movements in the annual rate of change of energy prices. However, measures of underlying inflation are expected to rise more gradually over the medium term, supported by the ECB’s monetary policy measures, the expected economic recovery and the corresponding
gradual absorption of slack.

Although developments in bank credit continue to reflect the lagged relationship with the business cycle, credit risk and the ongoing adjustment of financial and nonfinancial sector balance sheets, the monetary policy measures put in place since June 2014 are significantly supporting borrowing conditions for firms and households and thereby credit flows across the euro area. The euro area bank lending survey for the fourth quarter of 2016 indicates that credit standards for loans to enterprises are broadly stabilising, while loan demand has continued to expand at a robust pace
across all loan categories. Loan growth to the private sector has thus continued its gradual recovery. Moreover, the overall nominal cost of external financing for nonfinancial corporations is estimated to have declined slightly in December.

At its meeting on 19 January 2017, based on the regular economic and monetary analyses, the Governing Council decided to keep the key ECB interest rates unchanged. The Governing Council continues to expect the key ECB interest rates to remain at present or lower levels for an extended period of time, and well past the horizon of the net asset purchases. Regarding non-standard monetary policy measures, the Governing Council confirmed that the Eurosystem will continue to make purchases under the asset purchase programme at the current monthly pace of €80 billion until the end of March 2017 and that, from April 2017, net asset purchases are intended to continue at a monthly pace of €60 billion until the end of December 2017, or beyond, if necessary, and in any case until the Governing Council sees a sustained adjustment in the path of inflation consistent with its inflation aim. The net purchases will be made alongside reinvestments of the principal payments from maturing securities purchased under the asset purchase programme.

Looking ahead, the Governing Council confirmed that a very substantial degree of monetary accommodation is needed for euro area inflation pressures to build up and support headline inflation in the medium term. If warranted to achieve its objective, the Governing Council will act by using all the instruments available within its mandate. In particular, if the outlook becomes less favourable, or if financial conditions become inconsistent with further progress towards a sustained
adjustment in the path of inflation, the Governing Council stands ready to increase the asset purchase programme in terms of size and/or duration.

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