If you’re on a tracker mortgage, send the European Central Bank President Mario Draghi flowers. He’s made your life a little easier. If you sell your stuff abroad, send Mario a gift card or a free sample. If you work in the management of a bank, fall to your knees and pray to His image, for Mario is your salvation.
The ECB this week decided to cut its three main interest rates further into negative territory, massively increase its asset purchase programme to €80 billion worth of assets per month (yes, per month) and change which types of assets they would buy.
Now the ECB will buy investment grade (non-bank) corporate bonds, as well as government bonds and other bank bonds.
In a world where negative interest rates are killing banks’ margins, Draghi announced a new programme of long-term loans to banks, which they may be paid to take on if the banks expand their own lending to people like you and me. This enticement to push more credit into the economy at historically low interest rates will not go unnoticed.
The causal assumption is that increases in credit increase growth and inflation, especially when unemployed people and underemployed capital assets such as factories get back working at nearly full capacity.
The combination of the balance sheet expansion and interest rate cuts was bold and decisive, and took almost everyone by surprise. The decision by the ECB was probably driven by the recent weaker than expected measurements of core inflation. The ECB’s reason for being is to keep inflation at or around 2 per cent per cent per annum, and right now it is 0.8 per cent.
What does this mean for Ireland? As I’ve mentioned, having a weak exchange rate helps you sell stuff if you’re a business, but taking assets off firms’ balance sheets and replacing them with cash will stimulate investment, employment and consumer spending. We will also see more lending through the credit channel as a result of the lower interest rate policies and new loan programmes pushing new credit into the system.
Ireland now has an economy growing faster than any in Europe with the most lax monetary policy anyone could have imagined. What could go wrong?
Well, quite a bit could go wrong.
Mario’s announcements are not brilliant news for Ireland’s savers – putting money away for a rainy day may well end up costing you rather than making you money. But for those in debt, the changes are a godsend. All hail Mario.
Taken together, and they do need to be seen as aspects of one package, these measures are expansionary, bold, and optimistic.
Now all Mario has to do is find €80 billion a month of stuff to buy — no joke when you’re going to do it for several years.