(Bloomberg) -- European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde reiterated that borrowing costs will remain elevated for as long as needed to tame consumer prices — even as the economy struggles.
“Our future decisions will ensure that the key ECB interest rates will be set at sufficiently restrictive levels for as long as necessary,” Lagarde told lawmakers Monday in the European Parliament in Brussels.
She didn’t specify how lengthy that period may be, saying only that, “it’s a long race that we are in.”
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“We remain determined to ensure that inflation returns to our 2% medium-term target in a timely manner,” Lagarde said, sticking closely to this month’s ECB policy statement that accompanied a 10th straight hike in rates to 4%.
That’s a level that most economists and investors reckon marks the peak in the ECB’s more than yearlong campaign to quash inflation. Some Governing Council have endorsed that assessment, with Spain’s Pablo Hernandez de Cos reiterating Monday that the current level should bring price growth back to the 2% goal if maintained for long enough.
Bank of France Governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau said the ECB shouldn’t test the economy “until it breaks” — a hint that the prefers not raising rates any further.
Lagarde, too, acknowledged the pain the ECB’s actions are causing, particularly for the 30% of households that have variable-rate mortgages.
“Our duty is to return inflation back to target in a timely manner,” she said. “The faster it gets there, the more stable prices are, the less painful it will be going forward for both those who invest but also those who have borrowed.”
Some officials, though, are less certain that the high point in rates has been reached yet. Bundesbank President Joachim Nagel said last week it’s too soon to make such declarations as inflation remains too elevated and is only forecast to decline slowly.
A key challenge is judging how the economy responds to the 450 basis points of monetary tightening enacted since July 2022. The euro-zone outlook has worsened lately, with Germany a particular weak spot. Business confidence there improved only marginally in September while remaining at historically low levels, data released Monday by the Ifo institute showed.
“Activity in the euro area economy is clearly moderating,” ECB Executive Board member Isabel Schnabel said in a separate speech Monday.
There’s little prospect of imminent relief from looser monetary policy, however. Echoing earlier remarks, Lagarde said such a prospect isn’t even being considered at the moment.
“We are not talking about reducing rates,” she said. “Rate cuts have not been discussed by the Governing Council.”
--With assistance from Bryce Baschuk and Bastian Benrath.
(Updates with more from Lagarde starting in third paragraph.)
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