Mar 22, 2023
Lagarde Pledges ‘Robust’ Policy With ECB Ready to Act as Needed
(Bloomberg) -- The European Central Bank will take a “robust” approach that allows it to respond to inflation risks as needed but also aid financial markets if threats emerge, according to President Christine Lagarde.
“Bringing inflation back to 2% over the medium term is non-negotiable,” she told a conference of ECB watchers in Frankfurt on Wednesday. “We will do so by following a robust strategy that is data-dependent and embeds a readiness to act, but that does not entertain trade-offs around our primary objective.”
The ECB president built on remarks to lawmakers on Monday, pledging support to the financial system if necessary but also holding a steady gaze on consumer-price risks that she insists haven’t yet shown any signs of dissipating amid recent global market turmoil.
“We do not see clear evidence that underlying inflation is trending downwards,” she said. While “falling energy prices are weakening a key driver” of such pressures, Lagarde added that “increasing domestic price pressures could offset some of this disinflationary impulse.”
The president repeated language used at the decision last week, that if the ECB’s “baseline” holds, then the ECB will have “ground to cover” in its monetary policy.
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“The bottom line is that if financial stability is preserved (and that’s a big if) the ECB will be lifting rates further going into the summer. We expect 25 basis-point hikes in May and June, with another possible in July. The risks, though, are skewed toward less tightening if financial conditions worsen, taking more hikes off the table.”
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Chief Economist Philip Lane, speaking at the same event, said that underlying inflation should ease over time, though he ratified Lagarde’s view on rates.
“I would agree with the phrasing the president used — if the baseline holds up, absolutely there’s more to do,” he said. “But we will have lots of time between now and the May decision to look at that.”
Officials raised rates by another half a point on Thursday, extending the most aggressive hiking cycle in its history even as the specter of a full-fledged banking crisis roiled financial markets. Inflation remains much too high for comfort, policymakers argued while pledging to do what’s needed to ensure the system won’t collapse.
“I have made clear that there is no trade-off between price stability and financial stability,” she said on Wednesday. “We have plenty of tools to provide liquidity support to the financial system if needed and to preserve the smooth transmission of monetary policy.”
Bundesbank President Joachim Nagel said in comments published in the Financial Times earlier that the ECB isn’t done raising rates.
“There’s still some way to go, but we are approaching restrictive territory,” he said. “If we are to tame this stubborn inflation, we will have to be even more stubborn.”
In her speech, Lagarde said officials will keep a close eye on the banking sector in the next weeks and months to see whether firms are becoming more reluctant to lend. Some economists have suggested that this could be a result of higher funding costs in light of recent turmoil in the sector.
“While more restrictive credit conditions are part of the mechanism by which our tightening ultimately reins in excess price pressures and brings inflation back to target, we will make sure that the process will be orderly throughout,” she said.
(Updates with BE after fifth paragraph)
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