ECB raises rates

Policy statement of Jean-Claude Trichet, President of the ECB

Based on its regular economic and monetary analyses, the Governing Council decided to increase the key ECB interest rates by 25 basis points, after maintaining them unchanged for almost two years at historically low levels. The adjustment of the current very accommodative monetary policy stance is warranted in the light of upside risks to price stability that we have identified in our economic analysis. While our monetary analysis indicates that the underlying pace of monetary expansion is still moderate, monetary liquidity remains ample and may facilitate the accommodation of price pressures. All in all, it is essential that the recent price developments do not give rise to broad-based inflationary pressures over the medium term. Our decision will contribute to keeping inflation expectations in the euro area firmly anchored in line with our aim of maintaining inflation rates below, but close to, 2% over the medium term. Such anchoring is a prerequisite for monetary policy to contribute to economic growth in the euro area. At the same time, interest rates across the entire maturity spectrum remain low. Thus, the stance of monetary policy remains accommodative and thereby continues to lend considerable support to economic activity and job creation. Recent economic data confirm that the underlying momentum of economic activity continues to be positive, with uncertainty remaining elevated. We will continue to monitor very closely all developments with respect to upside risks to price stability.

As stated on previous occasions, the provision of liquidity and the allotment modes for refinancing operations will also be adjusted when appropriate, taking into account the fact that all the non-standard measures taken during the period of acute financial market tensions are, by construction, temporary in nature. Accordingly, the Governing Council will continue to monitor all developments over the period ahead very closely.

Let me now explain our assessment in greater detail, starting with the economic analysis. Following the 0.3% quarter-on-quarter increase in euro area real GDP in the fourth quarter of 2010, recent statistical releases and survey-based indicators point towards a continued positive underlying momentum of economic activity in the euro area in early 2011. Looking ahead, euro area exports should be supported by the ongoing recovery in the world economy. At the same time, taking into account the relatively high level of business confidence in the euro area, private sector domestic demand should increasingly contribute to economic growth, benefiting from the accommodative monetary policy stance and the measures adopted to improve the functioning of the financial system. However, the recovery in activity is expected to be dampened somewhat by the process of balance sheet adjustment in various sectors.

In the Governing Council’s assessment, the risks to this economic outlook remain broadly balanced in an environment of elevated uncertainty. On the one hand, global trade may continue to grow more rapidly than expected, thereby supporting euro area exports. Moreover, continued strong business confidence could provide more support to domestic economic activity in the euro area than currently expected. On the other hand, downside risks relate to the ongoing tensions in some segments of the financial markets that may potentially spill over to the euro area real economy. Downside risks also relate to further increases in energy prices, in particular in view of ongoing geopolitical tensions, and to protectionist pressures and the possibility of a disorderly correction of global imbalances. Finally, there are potential risks stemming from the economic impact on the euro area and elsewhere of the recent natural and nuclear disaster in Japan.

With regard to price developments, euro area annual HICP inflation was 2.6% in March 2011, according to Eurostat’s flash estimate, after 2.4 % in February. The increase in inflation rates in early 2011 largely reflects higher commodity prices. Pressure stemming from the sharp increases in energy and food prices is also discernible in the earlier stages of the production process. It is of paramount importance that the rise in HICP inflation does not lead to second-round effects in price and wage-setting behaviour and thereby give rise to broad-based inflationary pressures over the medium term. Inflation expectations must remain firmly anchored in line with the Governing Council’s aim of maintaining inflation rates below, but close to, 2% over the medium term.

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