The last official intervention by the European Central Bank (ECB) in the currency markets took place in November 2000 and at the time the Bank stated that “the external value of the EUR does not reflect the favourable conditions of the euro area”. The ECB also noted the impact of a weaker EUR on price stability, with inflation at the time running above the ECB’s 2% threshold. This followed intervention a couple of months earlier in September 2000 when the ECB jointly intervened with the US Federal Reserve, Bank of Japan and other central banks in a concerted manner due to “shared concerns about the potential implications of recent movements in the euro exchange rate for the world economy”.
Conditions in the euro area could hardly be described as favourable at present, suggesting that this rationale would be very unlikely to be used to justify intervention. Conversely, a weaker EUR may actually contribute to making conditions in the eurozone more favourable. The rationale used for the September 2000 intervention holds more sway in the current environment. Nonetheless, the move in the EUR is very unlikely to do any serious damage to the world economy even if some Japanese exporters are suffering.
In the past the ECB has given various verbal warnings about the volatility of the EUR being too high, and this could potentially be utilized as rationale for FX intervention. However, implied volatility in EUR/USD is not particularly high when compared to the levels it reached during the recent financial crisis. Currently 3-month implied volatility is at its highest level since June 2009 but well below the peak in volatility recorded in December 2008. Clearly if EUR/USD volatility continues to rise there will be a greater cause for concern but at current levels the ECB is unlikely to even crank up verbal intervention let alone actual FX intervention.
One of the main benefits of the decline in the EUR is the support that it will provide to the eurozone economy. At a time when growth in Europe is slowing EUR weakness will be particularly welcome. Germany and other countries in Northern Europe will be major beneficiaries of EUR weakness given their export dependence. Given such benefits and the currently limited risks to inflation, the ECB is highly unlikely to intervene to strengthen the EUR.
Given the current very negative mood in the market, officials in Europe would do better to rectify some of the structural issues that markets are concerned about. This may provoke a more sustainable rally in the EUR but until there are concrete signs of progress on the fiscal front sentiment towards the EUR will remain negative. Against this background FX intervention to prop up the EUR would face more of a risk of failure, and in turn damage to the credibility of the ECB. This is perhaps as good a reason as any not to expect intervention.