Thursday, May 7, 2009

How The European Central Bank Is Different

The European Central Bank (ECB) made several important announcements today, and the reaction from currency traders was much different than how they have reacted to similar moves from other central banks. Currency expert Kathy Lien looks closer at the recent announcements, and talks a bit about what sets the ECB apart from the Bank of England and Federal Reserve, in her blog post below.

Both the European Central Bank and the Bank of England announced asset purchases today, but the Euro skyrocketed while the British pound fell, leading many currency traders to wonder What Sets the ECB Apart from Fed and BoE?

Read Boris’ take on the Bank of England Rate Decision

Before talking about why the euro recovered, here are the 4 key announcements made by the ECB today:

1. Cut Repo Rate from 1.25 to 1.00%
2. Narrow Rate Corridor by 50bp (Marginal Lending Rate Cut by 50bp to 1.75%)
3. Extend maturity of refinancings to 12 months
4. Announced purchases of up to EU60 billion in euro-denominated covered bonds

There is no question that these are unprecedented measures for the European Central Bank. Everyone expected the quarter point rate cut to a record low of 1.00 percent, the decision to increase the maturity of refinancings to 12 months and also the narrowing of the rate corridor by 50bp, but the chance of purchasing euro-denominated covered bonds was low.

Nonetheless, Trichet has resorted to what many consider Quantitative Easing (even though he explicitly denied that this is QE) and rather than punishing the euro, currency traders are applauding the ECB for being flexible and realizing that there is no longer a stigma attached to asset purchases. Also, the amount of bonds that the ECB is purchasing is nominal compared to the rest of the central banks. The ECB plans on buying up to EU60 billion, which is less than half of the BoE’s Quantitative Easing program. More importantly however, Trichet suggested that they may sterilize the liquidity impact of bond purchases, which would limit the impact on the money supply and the pressure on the euro. The Fed and the BoE’s purchases are unsterilized. Finally, this is only an initial announcement. Further details on the bond plan will be released in June. Although rates are appropriate for the current time, the central bank could still take interest rates below 1 percent based upon Trichet’s comment that they have decided if rates have hit their lowest point.

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