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ECB raises rates by 75 basis points

The European Central Bank has raised interest rates by 75 basis points to tackle record inflation, despite fears that the eurozone is already heading into recession because of soaring energy prices.

The move, which matches the ECB’s previous biggest increase in borrowing costs, lifts the bank’s benchmark deposit rate from zero to 0.75 per cent — the highest level since 2011.

Christine Lagarde, the ECB’s president, said that, while moves on this scale were not “the norm”, today’s rise would be followed by further increases in the coming months to bring inflation, now at a high of 9.1 per cent, under control.

The decision to raise rates by 75bp was unanimous, she added.

The euro lost 0.5 per cent against the dollar, trading at $0.994 against the greenback as Lagarde spoke to the press. The common currency had initially moved between small gains and losses following the central bank’s rate-rise announcement.

Europe’s regional Stoxx 600 share gauge lost 0.8 per cent.

It is the second consecutive increase in borrowing costs by the ECB, which raised rates in July for the first time in more than a decade.

The rise comes in spite of mounting fears that the currency area will fall into recession in the coming months as surging energy prices — largely the result of Russia’s throttling of key European gas supplies — hit businesses and households throughout the region.

However, inflation is well above the ECB’s 2 per cent target, while the jobless rate is at a record low of 6.6 per cent in July. The euro is also hovering around 20-year lows against the dollar, raising the price of imports.

Such developments bolstered the case for the ECB to take more aggressive action to rein in inflation, even if it costs jobs and growth. The last time the ECB raised rates by 0.75 percentage points was a three-week technical adjustment to smooth the euro’s launch in January 1999.

The ECB said its main refinancing rate for bank liquidity would increase from 0.5 per cent to 1.25 per cent. The rate on its marginal lending facility for overnight loans to banks would rise from 0.75 per cent to 1.5 per cent.

In government bond markets, the yield on the two-year German Bund — which is sensitive to changes in interest rate expectations — rose 0.16 percentage points to 1.25 per cent as the price of the debt instrument fell. The 10-year Bund yield, seen as a proxy for borrowing costs across the eurozone, rose 0.11 percentage points to 1.68 per cent.

Italian bond prices also dropped, with the two-year yield adding 0.13 percentage points to 2.27 per cent and the 10-year yield adding 0.12 percentage points to 3.98 per cent.

The ECB has lagged behind most major central banks in its response to high inflation. The US Federal Reserve is widely expected to announce a third consecutive 75bp rise at its meeting this month, which would lift the federal funds rate to a target range of 3 per cent to 3.25 per cent.

“The ECB has joined the 75 basis point club,” said Seema Shah, chief global strategist at Principal Global Investors, adding that the move was “testament to the enormity of the inflation challenge facing the central bank”.

The ECB also unveiled new forecasts that showed a serious deterioration in the growth outlook and much higher inflation expectations compared with its June predictions.

Growth would fall from 3.1 per cent this year to 0.9 per cent next year and 1.9 per cent in 2024, it said. That was a marked reduction from its previous forecasts for growth to slow only moderately from 2.8 per cent this year to 2.1 per cent in the next two years. 

“Very high energy prices are reducing the purchasing power of people’s incomes and, although supply bottlenecks are easing, they are still constraining economic activity,” the ECB said.

However, unlike many economists, the bank does not expect a recession — two consecutive quarters of falling output — instead predicting the economy would “stagnate later in the year and in the first quarter of 2023”.

The central bank raised its inflation forecast for this year from 6.8 per cent to 8.1 per cent and for next year from 3.5 per cent to 5.5 per cent. Its 2024 inflation forecast was increased from 2.1 per cent to 2.3 per cent.

Underlining the worsening economic prospects for the eurozone’s largest economy, the Kiel Institute for the World Economy slashed its forecast for German growth next year by 4 percentage points to minus 0.7 per cent on Thursday, warning: “With the high import prices for energy, an economic avalanche is rolling towards Germany.”

So far the hard data for the eurozone economy up to this summer has remained surprisingly resilient. Growth rose by an unexpectedly strong 0.8 per cent in the second quarter, bolstering the case of the hawkish ECB policymakers pushing for more “forceful” action on rates.

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