European Central Bank holds rates, launches policy review
In this June 22, 2016 file photo, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde speaks during a news conference in Washington. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
David McHugh, The Associated Press
Published Thursday, January 23, 2020 8:05AM EST
FRANKFURT -- The European Central Bank had decided to launch a top-to-bottom review of how it steers the economy for 342 million people in the 19 countries that use the Europe.
The bank's 25-member governing council on Thursday gave the green light for the review proposed by new ECB head Christine Lagarde.
The review could look at the bank's inflation target of just under 2%. The target is in focus because the bank has struggled to meet it for years despite massive monetary stimulus and record low interest rates.
The central bank on Thursday also left unchanged its key interest rates and stimulus programs.
Lagarde took over from Mario Draghi on Nov. 1 at the head of the top monetary authority for the 19 countries that use the euro as their currency. The monetary policy review will be the first since 2003 for the bank, which was founded in 1998 ahead of the euro's launch in 1999.
One reason for the review is the bank's inability in recent years to reach its stated goal of inflation of "below, but close to, 2%." Inflation averaged 1.2% over Draghi's eight-year term despite stimulus measures such as lowering interest benchmarks below zero and pumping 2.6 trillion euros ($2.9 trillion) into the financial system through bond purchases.
The current inflation goal is considered to offer a margin of safety against deflation, a vicious circle of falling prices, investment and slow growth. Some inflation also helps countries in the eurozone that are trying to improve their price competitiveness without having to fall into negative inflation themselves. The current goal could be replaced by a range or a different formulation.
Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at financial firm ING Germany, said that the review might have broad parameters at the start but "could end up changing very little." He said a new definition of price stability of "around 2%" would give the bank some new flexibility to overshoot after periods of not reaching the target. Others have proposed a range, such as 1.5% to 2.5%.
Lagarde will also give her assessment of how things stand in the economy. She inherited a stimulus package enacted at Draghi's next-to-last meeting in September. The bank cut the deposit rate on money left overnight by commercial banks to minus 0.5% from minus 0.4% and started 20 billion euros ($22 billion) in monthly bond purchases. The package was aimed at supporting weak growth against headwinds from the U.S.-China trade dispute.