ECB seen slowing bond-buying by July

18 April, 2021 12:00 AM printer

LONDON: The European Central Bank will slow its emergency bond-buying by July and signal at the end of this year that the programme will come to a halt in March 2022, according to a Bloomberg survey of economists.

More than 60 per cent of respondents predict the ECB will stick to its current timeline for net purchases, and almost as many expect it to give three months’ notice before stopping the programme. Economists don’t expect any policy changes at this week’s meeting, report agencies.

The central bank accelerated its pandemic emergency purchase programme last month to keep financing conditions for companies, households and governments across the euro area favourable. Borrowing costs are facing upward pressure as the speedier US recovery and larger fiscal stimulus spill over into higher bond yields globally.

ECB policy makers have signalled there’s little reason to change course until June, when the issue is up for review and new forecasts will provide a better idea of the road to recovery.

While high infection rates and tight lockdowns across much of the region are still curbing business activity, a pick-up in vaccinations suggests coronavirus restrictions can gradually be lifted in the coming months. Economists predict an economic recovery will start in the second quarter, becoming more entrenched in the rest of the year.

“The lockdowns at the beginning of the quarter are a drag, but as the vaccination campaigns gather pace, a material improvement is in sight,” said Birgit Henseler, an economist at DZ Bank. “Growth should then accelerate strongly in the third quarter.”

All but one of the respondents expect the next significant change in the pace of bond-buying will be a slowdown.

“A full assessment of the pace of asset purchases won’t happen until June, but the tone of this week’s press conference may offer some hints on the debate to come. The hawks are likely to focus on the successful containment of bond yields and the economic recovery, while the doves will be more cautious.”

Policy makers have started to publicly consider how and when it’ll be safe to unwind the unprecedented support they’ve offered over the past year.

While officials, including president Christine Lagarde, have repeatedly stressed the dangers of withdrawing monetary or fiscal support too soon, some of her colleagues are also wary of pumping too much money into the financial system and undermining financial stability.

Dutch central bank governor Klaas Knot has suggested bond-buying could be tapered starting in the third quarter. His French colleague Francois Villeroy de Galhau has argued that pandemic purchases could end next March, with older tools being used to ensure monetary policy remains accommodative.