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Central banks head for the Portuguese hills

The €2.3 trillion programme, designed to revive inflation, is set to run until the end of 2017

Hugh Lawson | Reuters  |  London 

Mario Draghi
A file photo of European Central Bank President Mario Draghi arriving at the ECB Forum in Sintra, Portugal in 2016. Photo: Reuters

The cool shade of the hills above will offer leading central bankers an escape from the summer heat in the coming week, but there is little they can do to get away from their differing monetary policy conundrums.
As the global financial crisis slowly fades from the rear-view mirror, the world’s biggest are struggling to decide how and when and at what speed they can begin returning their monetary policy settings to something like normality.

The highlight of the European Central Bank’s “Forum on Central Banking” in Sintra — the old getaway of Portuguese monarchs — is likely to be Wednesday’s panel discussion including the heads of the European, British, Japanese and Canadian
For the ECB, the main issue over the next few months, after giving up its bias toward more rates cuts earlier this month, is whether to extend or start winding down its bond-buying programme.
With euro zone growth picking up and inflation slowly moving in the right direction, as price data at the end of the week may show, the idea of extending the programme will be anathema to the bank’s more hawkish members, Germany in particular.
The €2.3 trillion programme, designed to revive inflation, is set to run until the end of 2017, and a gradual withdrawal known as tapering would carry it well into next year.
On top of the economic arguments over whether to extend the programme, there is a technical problem: the growing scarcity of German government bonds available for the ECB to buy.
Sources with direct knowledge of the discussion told Reuters this will be a key consideration for the bank when it discusses the bond-buying programme.
Data from Germany’s Ifo economic institute on Monday is expected to show only a slight fall in business morale this month from last month’s record high, which may strengthen the resolve of those opposed to yet more money printing by the central bank.
The Bank of England, meanwhile, is caught between rising inflation and a 30-year high in factory orders on the one hand and weak wages, political instability and the complex process of extricating the country from the European Union on the other. The Bank voted 5-3 last week to keep borrowing costs unchanged — a closer outcome than expected — and on Wednesday its chief economist surprised investors by saying he was close to voting for a rate hike, too.
Part of the reason for the narrow split is inflation has hit its highest level in nearly four years, pushed up by the slump in the value of the pound since the Brexit vote.
Overall, analysts seem unconvinced that the Bank will vote in favour of increasing borrowing costs anytime soon. “We find it hard to see why the BoE as a committee will risk a rate hike as the country heads into the Brexit negotiations in an environment of high political and economic instability,” Credit Suisse  wrote.

First Published: Sun, June 25 2017. 01:39 IST