FRANKFURT (AFP) – The European Central Bank will this week unveil details of its plans to inject cash into the moribund eurozone economy, even as analysts express doubt about the effectiveness of the measures.
Following its surprise rate cut last month, the ECB is not expected to announce any new policy moves at its regular monthly meeting on Thursday, held this time in the Italian city of Naples instead of its usual home venue in Frankfurt.
But financial markets are hoping that ECB president Mario Draghi will provide more details about the bank’s contested liquidity programmes, notably its plans to buy asset-backed securities as a way of kick-starting lending in the 18 countries that share the euro.
And some ECB watchers will be listening out for any hints that the bank may embark on a much wider programme of so-called quantitative easing (QE) or the purchase of unlimited amounts of bonds, a policy already practised by other central banks such as the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England.
At its meeting last month, the ECB surprised the markets by cutting its key interest rates to new all-time lows and unveiling an ABS programme and a covered bond programme to ward off deflation in the single currency area.
And Draghi also appeared to hint at quantitative easing by saying the ECB would use “additional unconventional instruments within its mandate”.
Asset-backed securities (ABS) are bundles of individual loans such as mortgages, auto credit and credit-card debt that are sold on to investors, allowing banks to share the risk of default and freeing up funds to offer more credit.
The ECB believes that the market for such securities – an important source of financing for banks to keep lending to small and medium-sized enterprises – has effectively dried up since the financial crisis.
And the ECB hopes that by buying them on a large scale, it can help revive the market and free up some of the credit channels which have seized up during the long years of crisis.
The problem is that it was precisely complex financial derivatives such as ABS which are seen as the root of the sub-prime crisis in the US in 2008, leading many observers, particularly in Germany, to harbour deep reservations about them.
Analysts are also unconvinced that the ABS programme would be big enough to solve the problem of stymied credit.
“ABS backed by loans to small and medium-sized enterprises are desirable, but unfortunately not available on any meaningful scale,” said Willem Buiter of Citigroup.