After much thought, the ECB has increased interest rates by 50 basis points to stem sustainably high inflation.
The European Central Bank (ECB) recently hiked interest rates by another half a percentage point following today’s Frankfurt meeting.
The ECB’s latest rate hike comes amid financial woes in the US and European banking sectors, with stocks taking a hammering. However, the Eurosystem’s banking arm deemed the increase necessary in a press release earlier today. The publication on monetary policy decisions read:
“Inflation is projected to remain too high for too long. Therefore, the Governing Council today decided to increase the three key ECB interest rates by 50 basis points, in line with its determination to ensure the timely return of inflation to the 2% medium-term target.”
ECB President Christine Lagarde looks to explain the apex bank’s decision for the latest increase in interest rates at a press conference later today. However, the already-released ECB press memo attempted to shed some light on the fiscal development, noting:
“The elevated level of uncertainty reinforces the importance of a data-dependent approach to the Governing Council’s policy rate decisions, which will be determined by its assessment of the inflation outlook in light of the incoming economic and financial data, the dynamics of underlying inflation, and the strength of monetary policy transmission.”
In addition, the ECB Governing Council is also closely monitoring current market tensions to respond as needed. The Council stated that its ultimate goal is to preserve price stability and financial stability within the euro area.
The latest hike in interest rates brings the base rate of the euro area to 3%.
ECB Interest Rates Increase Comes Amid Market Downturn
The ECB had indicated for several weeks that it could increase interest rates again at its March meeting. This decision intensified as inflation across the region remained well above target levels, essentially hamstringing the zone’s banking sector. On Wednesday, the entire euro banking sector ended the session at a 7% drawdown, which also saw Credit Suisse shares plunge. The Swiss financial powerhouse’s stock plummeted by as much as 30% during Wednesday’s intraday trading session.
As a result, Dan O’Brien, chief economist at the Institute of International and European Affairs, concluded that another rate hike was inevitable. In a media session, O’Brien explained that the ECB had already indicated its intent to increase rates. Therefore, failing to do so could convey fear by the eurozone’s financial nerve, which it does not want to suggest. However, O’Brien previously predicted a rate hike of a quarter percent – and not a half percent. The economist did not foresee the ECB going that high due to prevalent banking and financial market turbulence.
According to O’Brien, the ECB faces the unenviable challenge of delicately balancing increased rates with runaway inflation. On the one hand, increasing interest rates could endanger the economy and inadvertently trigger a recession. However, allowing inflation to run riot could also weaken the economy and compromise the financial system. O’Brien remarks it is a “very, very difficult, fragile situation.”