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THE European Central Bank (ECB) has finally pulled the trigger, raising interest rates for the first time in 11 long years and by a larger-than-expected 50 basis points to zero.
The era of negative rates is over and the governing council is likely to fully take the eurozone into positive rates at its next quarterly economic review on Sept 8.
Furthermore, it unveiled an unlimited safety net for peripheral European countries’ bond yields. But it wasn’t enough to convince the market to reduce the spreads on Italian debt, which have soared in recent days.
It is evident that the half-point rate increase persuaded hawks on the governing council to agree to the new Transmission Protection Instrument (TPI), which will allow the central bank to buy unlimited amounts of the bonds of countries when it sees a need to to “counter unwarranted disorderly market dynamics.”
The ECB statement makes that link quite clearly, as did ECB president Christine Lagarde in the press conference. But details remain sketchy, and Lagarde counterbalanced her tough talk with the perhaps-too-honest view that the ECB doesn’t want ever to use the new programme.
Many feel that hawks on the governing council will prevent it ever being brought into action.
The central bank laid out four criteria nations must meet to qualify for assistance under the programme:
Compliance with the EU fiscal framework: not being subject to an excessive deficit procedure.,
Absence of severe macroeconomic imbalances: not being subject to an excessive imbalance procedure.
Fiscal sustainability: in ascertaining that the trajectory of public debt is sustainable, the governing council will take into account, where available, the debt sustainability analyses by the European Commission, the European Stability Mechanism, the International Monetary Fund and other institutions, together with the ECB’s internal analysis.
Sound and sustainable macroeconomic policies.
The TPI – which could be nicknamed ‘To Protect Italy’ – will be unlimited in size and depend in scale on severity of risks.
But the euro markets remain unconvinced, seeing this as a shaky compromise.
Defining such issues as the sustainability of a country’s debt is a highly contentious issue, something German Bundesbank chief Joachim Nagel highlighted rather pointedly earlier this month.
The collapse of Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s coalition government this week, with national elections now expected in early October, has concentrated the focus even more on the sustainability of more indebted European countries’ borrowing and economic predicament.
The 10-year yield spread of Italy over Germany widened by more than 20 basis points on Thursday to over 230 basis points, close to the four-year high reached in June.