Once again the European Central Bank (ECB) left markets hanging following its decision to cut interest rates by less than the market expected. Unlike the Bank of England which has been quick and aggressive in cutting interest rates and adopting unconventional policy the ECB has lagged behind due in large part to the difficulty in forging a consensus with so many council members involved in the decision making progress.
The ECB put off a decision to introduce new unconventional monetary policy tools until the May meeting due to the opposing views of various council members which in the end resulted in an unstable compromise. Although ECB President Trichet kept the door open to further easing the room is now limited, with another cut to 1% possible at the May meeting.
This will be less important and less influential on the economy compared to potential new measures that could include purchasing more commercial paper and corporate debt, widening the pool of collateral accepted in market operations and increasing the maturity of loans to banks. Buying government debt still seems unlikely given the technical problems in doing so.
The euro rallied against the US dollar following the ECB’s decision due to the fact that European interest rates remain relatively high compared to the US but a stronger euro will not come as good news for Eurozone exporters who are struggling in the face of a collapse in global demand.
The ECB may have put off the decision to another day but it will not be able to escape forever. The May meeting will be crucial to determine just how quickly Europe’s economy will recover. At the moment the lack of strong action suggests a delay in recovery compared to the US.