German court ruling update

Forex

The euro and Euro-area sovereign bonds dropped but were not exactly going into freefall after the German constitutional court gave a mixed ruling on the ECB’s bond buying programme. Judges said the asset purchase programme partially violated the German constitution, but on a key point it did not say the ECB’s actions constituted monetary financing. And it said the ruling has no bearing on the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme for the Covid-19 response.

Relating to long-standing Public Sector Purchase Programme going back some years under Mario Draghi, the court said the ECB needs to show that the scheme is ‘not disproportionate to the economic and fiscal policy effects.

Essentially the Bundesbank won’t be allowed to take part in PSPP unless the ECB proves, within the next three months, that QE was proportionate. If not, the Bundesbank won’t be allowed to take part, and would need to pay back bonds already bought under the scheme.

Without being German constitutional experts, it seems to boil down to the central bank ‘proving’ to a German constitutional court that its actions were taken in good faith and were proportional to the economic risks. Are the German judges saying the ECB didn’t know what it was doing? How do you retrospectively argue that your actions were proportionate? It seems absurd to think that the ECB ever committed to anything that it considered disproportionate.

PEPP is not affected by the decision, despite the looser rules. This may imply that it is already viewed as ‘proportionate’, in the eyes of the judges. However, the point was this case dates back years to PSPP and never was about PEPP – what is to stop cases being lodged now in relation to PEPP?

Fundamentally, anything that throws doubt on the ability of the ECB to provide the backstop to the bond market is a concern. The market is trying to figure this one out as the ruling is complex. For now, downside risks persist for the euro and bonds, especially peripheral debt, will be under pressure. We await the ECB’s response with the utmost interest.