ECB preview: Welcome to Japan?

Equities

The European Central Bank (ECB) convenes next week (June 4th) and is expected to increase emergency asset purchases as it continues to show it will ‘do whatever it takes’. With the scope of the Covid damage becoming a little clearer and deflation rearing its ugly head again, the ECB will stick to the old playbook of more QE to fight it. As ever the market will wonder whether this is ‘enough’, and as ever the answer will come back in the negative.

ECB monetary policy outlook: Japanification?

Eurozone inflation sank to its weakest in 4 years in May, data on Friday showed, only making further expansion by the ECB all the more certain. HICP inflation declined to 0.1% for the euro area, but outright deflation was recorded in 12 of the 19 countries using the single currency. Things have changed a lot since Mario Draghi declared victory over deflation in March 2017.

Nevertheless, core HICP inflation remains stable at 0.9%, which will give some comfort to policymakers. The decline in the oil price passed through to petrol pumps, with energy –12% year-on-year.

Recovery in oil prices should boost the headline reading going forward but the core reading may not be able to withstand the pressures of demand destruction and mass unemployment. The reading today only means the ECB will keep its foot to the floor with increased asset purchases.

However, in reality, given the ECB is already at the absolute limits of monetary policy efficacy, it cannot actually do much about this and only hope that consumer confidence comes back and for energy prices rise – and for global money printing efforts by central bank peers to stoke a round of inflation, which some think will be the outcome post Covid-19.

The concern of course is that Europe, like Japan, has driven itself into a vicious cycle of deflationary tendencies and negative interest rates that will be very hard to escape, particularly as it contends with long-term, perhaps permanent, damage to productivity and economic activity due to the pandemic.

Eurozone economic projections

There will be a lot of focus on the staff macroeconomic projections, although the extreme uncertainty around the extent of damage to the Q2 readings and speed of recovery forecast for Q3/4 means a lot of this remains guesswork.

The ECB has detailed three scenarios for GDP in 2020 relating to the damage wrought by the pandemic: mild -5%, medium –8% and severe –12%. Various comments indicate we can now rule out the mild scenario. Christine Lagarde said this week that the “economic contraction likely between medium and severe scenarios”, adding: “It is very hard to forecast how badly the economy has been affected.”

There is no way of really know how badly Q2 went. We have various sources estimating pretty seismic falls; INSEE says French GDP will contract by 20% in the second quarter. Estimates for Germany suggest a roughly 10% decline.

We know that tough lockdown measures that started to be introduced across Europe in March produced a noticeable impact on Q1. Whilst economic activity is emerging from the cold again as June begins, there is little doubt that April and May saw considerable declines in output.

More PEPP announced after the ECB monetary policy meeting?

The ECB seems all but certain to increase the size of its Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP). The €750bn limit looks likely to run out by the autumn and the ECB will want to push the envelope by a further €500bn.

Germany’s Constitutional Court ruling has obvious repercussions for the Bundesbank, but that ruling relates to ‘normal’ QE and not PEPP, which would tend to argue in favour of expanding this programme now during the emergency, rather than trying to top up later on.  Moreover, the ECB wants to make sure that the ‘whatever it takes’ message gets through to the markets to avoid dislocations in bond markets.

Finally, whilst our focus is on the ECB in the coming days, the most important thing for the EZ and the euro is not Ms Lagarde and co, but the frugal four and the EU’s rescue fund. The European Commission’s 7-year budget including the €750bn rescue fund were only published this week so a final decision is not expected any time soon.

Budget talks look set to be long and arduous – the numbers of budget contributors highlight that Sweden, Denmark, Austria and the Netherlands pay their fare share and some: all contribute more than 3% of GDP vs 2.2% by France and 3.9% by Germany. Which is why Germany throwing its weight behind the bailout grants (as opposed to loans) is so crucial. Ultimate the EU will work out a fudge to keep the frugal four on board- the question is whether it can somehow achieve debt mutualisation and make its ‘Hamiltonian’ moment real.

EURUSD chart analysis

The dollar was offered on Friday with DXY sinking to its weakest since mid-March and test the 61.8% retracement of the Covid-inspired rally at the 98 round number support.

This helped push EURUSD higher as the pair cemented the breach of the 200-day simple moving average on the upside. Bulls looking to take out the late March swing high at 1.1150, which could open up a pathway to the 50% long-term retracement at 1.1450.