ECB’s Bond-Buying Proposals Win Market Favor

Terry Flanagan

It appears that attempts by the European Central Bank (ECB) at trying to solve the ongoing eurozone sovereign debt crisis almost single-handedly are producing some positive economic results.

Although the ECB has yet to flesh out its much-vaunted bond-buying proposals—this is likely to happen when its governing council meets on September 6—Mario Draghi, the ECB president, last month indicated that the central bank would do “whatever it takes” to intervene in the debt markets to bring borrowing costs down for struggling eurozone nations such as Italy and Spain. The eurozone troubles have been weighing heavily on markets across the globe in recent months, as no solution seems in sight.

The German Bundesbank, its central bank, remains opposed to the bond-buying proposal and wants the ECB to act within its mandate. Under European Union treaties, the ECB is not allowed to provide financing for governments. The Bundesbank says bond-buying strays close to breaching this rule.

Jörg Asmussen, a senior ECB official, said this week that the ECB’s program, which is still in development, will stay within its mandate and intervene on the secondary debt markets only in conjunction with European Union rescue funds and will buy only shorter-dated debt.

“The latest ECB plan has admittedly already been a success, because it reversed a bearish tone for risk assets and triggered a strong rally,” Nicola Marinelli, portfolio manager at Glendevon King Asset Management, a fixed income boutique based in London, told Markets Media.

“The question is if it will continue to be a success, given that some opposition is building within the ECB, the German Constitutional Court decision and also given the worsening economic situation in Europe. My feeling is that the markets are confident it will be a success, but it can take very little to change this confidence. Things can turn very quickly.”

Marinelli added: “The ECB is trying to do what it cannot do: solve fiscal problems with monetary tools. They are selling it in a very subtle way in order to get the go-ahead. This means that, whether you approve it or not, Draghi is definitely trying not to be behind the curve.”

Earlier this week, Jens Weidmann, the German central bank chief, who sits on the ECB governing council, said that “such a policy [of bond-buying] comes close to financing states with the printing press”. He added that: “One should not underestimate the danger that financing by central banks can get one hooked like a drug.”

Many market analysts believe that a departure by Greece—the epicenter of the sovereign debt crisis—of the eurozone is now a mere formality, but say that any ECB plan must be big enough to douse fears that larger EU nations such as Spain or Italy will leave the European single currency area.

There are also worries, too, that the ECB is stepping into the realms of politics with its bond-buying proposals and will be no longer able to fulfill its price stability mandate, although many market participants believe that the only true long-term fix to the eurozone crisis is for Europe to enter into a fiscal and political union, which is unlikely to happen.

“The role, which the ECB appears prepared to take on, will over-extend the central bank and further erode its independence from politics,” Juergen Stark, a German born former ECB executive board member, told the German newspaper Handelsblatt today.

“And in the end, the central bank will no longer be able to perform its core task, guaranteeing price stability. There is a threat of higher inflation—not today, not tomorrow, but medium to long term.”

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