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OECD warns of Eurozone deflation risks; suggests ECB consider non-conventional measures – Sober Look

As a follow-up to an earlier discussion on rising deflationary risks in the Eurozone (here), it seems that the OECD is now also growing concerned about this issue. The latest economic report is openly suggesting that the ECB consider non-conventional policy measures (such as LTRO or securities purchases). Below is a good summary of OECD’s assessment of the situation in the euro area.

OECD: – In the euro area, recovery is lagging and uneven, unemployment – especially among the young – remains very high and inflationary pressures are very subdued. The ECB should consider further policy measures if deflationary risks become more serious. Current account adjustment is advancing in the periphery but price adjustment alone will not work given the impossibility of reconciling deflation, needed to regain competitiveness, and achieving nominal growth to support debt sustainability. Much less adjustment, if any, is taking place in surplus countries. More durable and symmetric adjustment is needed through reforms to labour and product markets, including liberalisation of services in Germany that would strengthen and rebalance demand.

Weakness in the banking system remains a major drag on growth in the euro area. The Asset Quality Review and stress tests in 2014 must be implemented rigorously – and followed up by bank recapitalisation where needed – to restore the transmission of monetary policy, strengthen financial-system stability and get credit moving again to enhance the effectiveness of structural reforms and support growth. Failure to use this opportunity could impair confidence in European banks and sovereigns. There is progress towards banking union but the transition promises to be complex and delicate as the criteria and responsibility for regulation, supervision, and resolution of banks have to be clarified.

OECD’s chief economist, Pier Carlo Padoan, said that the Eurozone deflationary risks “may be slowly increasing” and “the ECB must be very careful and be prepared to use even non-conventional measures to beat any risk of deflation becoming permanent.”

Some at the Bundesbank will likely oppose any such action by the ECB. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult for German central bankers to argue that deflation is not a threat to the area’s economy. Today we saw the German PPI number fall below analysts’ expectations, with the year-over-year measure moving deeper into negative territory.

Econoday: – The ongoing softness of both the headline and core PPI continues to bode well for subdued CPI inflation (1.2 percent in October) over coming months. As such, today’s report will do nothing to deter speculation in financial markets that November’s ECB ease will not be the last of the cycle.

If this continues, the ECB will be under increasing pressure to take further (and most likely unconventional) policy action.

The Independent: – The eurozone must follow the examples of the UK, US and Japan by turning to the printing presses to avoid the threat of damaging deflation, according to an assessment by a leading economic think-tank [OECD].

OECD Economic Outlook press conference

More on the OECD report here.

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In spite of currency disadvantage, Germany competes on brand – Sober Look

Germany’s trade figures continue to surprise to the upside. The latest merchandise trade number came in at €18.9bn, while according to Econoday, economists were expecting €15.5bn.

Source: Econoday

The question of course is how does Germany do this given that it is competing directly with Japan in global markets. And Japan has had one key advantage – a weakening currency, which makes its product cheaper. The chart below shows the value of the euro in terms of yen (EUR/JPY), with the euro now at recent high against the yen.

EUR/JPY

Is there a different product mix between Germany and Japan? Certainly. But according to CIBC the product overlap with Japan is the highest for Germany vs. other Eurozone nations. Machinery, electronics and cars represent a substantial component of both nations’ exports.

Source: CIBC

So how does Germany compete so successfully in spite of this currency disadvantage? The answer seems to be that Germany can compete on brand strength even at higher prices.

CIBC: – The [euro] strength against the yen will persist, a challenge largely for German exporters as they compete closely in areas such as autos and electronics. However, with many consumers prepared to pay a premium for German engineering, its exports are often less sensitive to price changes.

Indeed when compared with its Eurozone peers, German exporters boast the least price-sensitive merchandise. For example, a 10-20% higher price on a high-end German car is less likely to motivate someone to switch to a Japanese car – particularly in markets like China.

Source: CIBC

Going forward, German firms will be getting some tailwinds from Mario Draghi’s accommodative monetary policy. The ECB overnight rate is now at record low. That should limit the euro’s appreciation and provide some price stability for German exporters.

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Eurozone’s falling excess reserves – is another round of LTRO required? – Sober Look

The euro area banking system excess reserves are continuing to decline – touching the lowest level since 2011.

Just to put this in perspective, the chart below shows excess reserves in the US. With the Fed continuing to pump liquidity into the system, these swelled above $2.3 trillion last week – a new record.

The reason the Eurozone reserves are declining has to do with the area’s banks gradually repaying what they have borrowed from the Eurosystem via MRO and LTRO loans.

Source: ECB

Some economists view this decline in excess reserves as an indication of tighter monetary conditions in the Eurozone. They point to weak consumer credit growth and a severe contraction in corporate lending.

YoY change in loans to euro area households (source: ECB)

YoY change in loans to euro area companies (source: ECB)

A few economists have called for Mario Draghi to offer up another round of LTRO lending or lower the rates on MRO (short-term) loans in order to boost excess reserves. The thought is for the ECB to follow the Fed’s and the BOJ’s lead at the October meeting and expand its balance sheet.

Such action however is unlikely at the next meeting. Certainly if these declining excess reserves push up rates, the ECB will have to act. But the central bank does not have the Fed’s dual mandate and is not as focused on the Eurozone’s dangerously high unemployment levels. Instead Draghi will concentrate on forward guidance of maintaining low overnight rates for the foreseeable future. The ECB will want to keep the LTRO tool in its back-pocket in case the crisis flares up again. After all, there is a nonzero risk of the German Constitutional Court ruling against the OMT program (ECB’s commitment to directly purchase government bonds of periphery nations). Other issues, such as political uncertainty in Italy (see post), could potentially reignite the crisis as well.

For now Draghi will want to see if the Eurozone’s credit markets can begin to “heal” themselves. The members of the Governing Council are following a number of business surveys which seem to point to stabilization in the area periphery nations.

Source: Econoday

If however lending volumes do not show a visible improvement in the next few months, another LTRO program could be in the works at a later date.

Bloomberg: – Frederik Ducrozet, an economist at Credit Agricole CIB in Paris says an LTRO is unlikely until December. The central bank could boost its forward guidance by putting a definite end date for loans at a particular cost, by issuing an LTRO with a fixed rate, he said. The previous loans were charged at the average of the ECB benchmark over the maturity.

‘‘A properly-designed LTRO would have the potential to kill several birds with one stone by enhancing forward guidance, keeping excess liquidity higher for longer, and further boosting the use of collateral from small businesses,’’ Ducrozet said.

ECB officials including Executive Board member Benoit Coeure have played down the short-term likelihood of a new round of long-term loans, saying that while it remained an option, it hasn’t been specifically discussed. The ECB’s Governing Council convenes in Paris on Oct. 2 for its monthly rate-setting meeting.

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