Despite rising inflation Why the ECB is not raising interest rates
Status: 10.06.2021 8:28 a.m.
Inflation is increasing in many European countries. Nevertheless, the European Central Bank wants to stick to its loose monetary policy. How long can she keep this course? By Klaus-Rainer Jackisch, MR The circular saw is still running. But the little wood that is left is not enough at the front and back. The large warehouse in the North Hessian Baunatal is usually well filled. But wood has been in short supply for weeks. “There has never been anything like it,” says Zimmermann and company owner Peter Hellmuth. The specialist fears further bottlenecks in the summer. Although demand is booming, there could even be short-time working. Because in Corona times there is more handicraft, building and tinkering, but also because the USA and China are buying empty the world market, there is currently too little wood . In April prices were almost 30 percent higher than in the same month last year, and the trend is still increasing, according to the Federal Statistical Office. Also at other raw materials are skyrocketing : Iron, steel and aluminum scrap rose by more than 60 percent, pig iron costs almost a quarter more, and the prices of electronic circuits rose by around 14 percent.
Above all, energy is more expensive
But energy prices climbed the hardest. Imported electricity, which is becoming more and more important because the amount of energy generated from sun, wind and water fluctuates sharply, even rose by 200 percent. People also had to dig deeper into their wallets for electronics and food. Inflation is back. It is coming with great strides. It is currently 2.5 percent in Germany . For the autumn, the Bundesbank and many economists expect inflation rates in this country of over four percent. Such values have not existed for almost three decades. The last time the prices climbed above the four percent mark in 1993. At that time, inflation was 4.5 percent, according to statisticians. The price surge is particularly noticeable in Germany: the return of VAT to the old values and the massive CO2 pricing since the beginning of the year are making themselves felt. The upturn in the economy does the rest: Through successes in vaccinations and easing, the demand for goods and services of all kinds is increasing, while at the same time supply is scarce – all of this is causing prices to go up.
Hardly any compensation through higher wages
Also in Europe: There the inflation rate rose to 2.0 percent in May. In addition to Germany, people in Austria (3.0 percent), Estonia (3.1 percent) and Luxembourg (4.0 percent) in particular have to pay more. All of that hurts, because because of Corona there are rather poor results in the wage rounds and therefore hardly any compensation. This makes price increases even more noticeable. But none of this makes much impression on the European Central Bank (ECB). It is expected that the company’s own forecasts, which will be updated this week, are well above the old estimates. It is also becoming apparent that inflation will by no means abate in the second half of the year as originally expected, but rather, on the contrary, reach new highs. But the monetary authorities in Frankfurt’s Eurotower see no reason to act. For weeks now, the members of the ECB’s Executive Board have repeatedly emphasized that the economy is recovering well, but currently still needs the support of an ultra-loose monetary policy. A repayment of the controversial bond purchases or even a turnaround in interest rates is not even hinted at.
Worried look at the financial markets
Instead, the ECB continues to pump billions from its Corona aid program PEPP into the markets at great speed – currently it is around 80 billion euros per month. This is intended to offer sufficient capital on favorable terms and to keep interest rates low. “The ECB has committed itself to ensuring favorable financing conditions during this phase,” said ECB President Christine Lagarde in Paris last week. This promise will also be kept. In fact, the ECB is not that unhappy about the price surge. The self-imposed inflation target of almost two percent has not been achieved for about ten years because one crisis chases the next. If this is different this year, it could be sold as a great success in your own monetary policy – even if the pendulum swings beyond your own target. In addition, one looks at the financial markets with concern: there share prices, also and precisely because of the ultra-loose monetary policy, have reached a level that has long been decoupled from the real economy in many areas. The central bankers fear that a change in monetary policy could lead to violent reactions and shake the fragile house of cards.
Debt rose sharply
And then there are also the debts: In southern Europe in particular, they have risen again to astronomical heights due to the collapse of tourism in the wake of the coronavirus crisis: Greece, for example, currently has a gross domestic product debt of around 205 percent. This is the highest level in the euro zone and more than during the Greek crisis. Italy, too, is groaning under excessive debts and ailing banks. An increase in the interest rate would not be right. Italy’s central bank chief Ignazio Visco is therefore particularly busy when it comes to sticking to the current monetary policy: “Large and sustained increases in interest rates are not justified by the current economic outlook and will be countered,” he said at the annual meeting of the Banca d´Italia in Rome. In fact, a new debt crisis in the euro zone, triggered by rising interest rates, would be the last thing the monetary union could use now. The central bank governors from Germany and the Netherlands, for example, cannot do much against all of these arguments. They have been calling for an exit from the ultra-loose monetary policy for a long time, but they are in the minority.
Criticism of the policy of the US Federal Reserve
So there are many reasons why the majority of monetary watchdogs prefer to keep their feet still and save themselves over the summer. A change in monetary policy at the council meeting this week is not expected, not even with a hint that it might be imminent. Only the pace of bond purchases could perhaps be slowed down a bit. But that too is unsafe. How long the ECB can continue on its course, however, also depends on the world around it. In the USA, for example, where the inflation rate is now 4.5 percent and the economy because of the two trillion corona aid program of the Biden government is slowly starting to overheat , criticism of the Federal Reserve’s loose monetary policy is growing louder. Economists such as the former IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard or the leading economic advisor of Allianz, Mohamed Aly El-Erian, fear that the corona crisis could have changed the structure of the economy. It is therefore not at all clear that inflation will recede again quickly. If the central banks act too late and then abruptly, this could lead to upheavals in the financial markets and a recession. The next few months are therefore likely to be uncomfortable for the European monetary authorities. And also for the people in the euro zone. Because one thing is clear: it will be even more expensive.