ECB rate setters divided over stimulus

December 4, 2015 10:23 AM

Only a day after the European Central Bank's latest move to easy policy, discord between euro zone rate setters over the decision is becoming apparent, suggesting any further step to stimulate inflation may face a higher hurdle.

The ECB's latest stimulus package on Thursday, which included a small deposit rate cut and an extension of its asset purchase program, disappointed investors who had hoped for more radical action, and sent European markets into a tailspin.

Yet comments by ECB rate setters since the decision suggest there was not enough support for bolder action on the ECB's governing council, which includes the bank's six executive board members and the 19 governors of the euro zone's national central banks, and that even the measures approved encountered some resistance.

The head of Germany's Bundesbank, Jens Weidmann, said he had voted against further easing, judging that the current low inflation was mainly due to low oil prices. Latvia's central bank governor Ilmars Rimsevics, who declined to say how he voted, said greater stimulus would have been unjustified.

"Nothing so ... catastrophic had happened in the break (between October's and December's governing council meetings) that the European Central Bank should come with a massive market-surprising package at the end of the year," Rimsevics said.

Executive Board member Yves Mersch, on the other hand, stood by Thursday's decision and even left the door open for more stimulus in the future if needed.

"(Thursday')s decision is reasonable and justified," Mersch told an audience in Germany, where opposition to further easing has been strongest, late on Thursday.

"At the same time the governing council will closely monitor all developments with regards to additional action."

Market expectations had been sky high ahead of the meeting after ECB President Mario Draghi and other executive board members had, in a number of speeches since October, dropped hints that more stimulus was urgently needed.

The market's disappointment raised a question mark over how far the ECB and its president can be expected to act in the future and whether investors will still be willing to give them credence.

Belgium's central bank governor expressed strong confidence in the measures announced on Thursday and dismissed concerns about the market's negative reaction.

"If markets expected another thing, that's their view, but I would like to invite them to look ... at the links between what we are doing and what is happening in the financial markets and the real economy and to have confidence that these links will be reinforced by the measures taken yesterday," Jan Smets said.

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Francesco Canepa, Reuters