Thursday’s European Central Bank meeting is shaping up to be critical. Last week’s news headlines were dominated by hawks on the bank’s governing council pushing back against the restart of quantitative easing. It’s a sure sign that Mario Draghi, the soon-to-depart ECB president, is readying the bond-buying bazooka once again.
He has little choice but to ignore the protests of Germany, France, and the Netherlands. As central banks around the world race to cut interest rates, this is no time for the ECB to dither. Europe’s manufacturers (Germany’s especially) are struggling with the impact of the U.S.-China trade war and Draghi simply cannot afford to let the euro strengthen.
The currency has been gaining against the pound and, more importantly, the Chinese yuan. One blessing is that the dollar has stayed surprisingly strong. But one of the best forward indicators of U.S. Growth, the manufacturing ISM report, has weakened. If the American economy really does start wilting, the dollar will finally follow. That could be calamitous for the downturn-threatened euro area.
As Germany’s manufacturing sector falls further into recession, Draghi’s hand has been forced. Last month the Finnish Central Bank Governor Olli Rehn called for a significant stimulus, and the euro area’s economic data has worsened subsequently.
It’s notable that the hawks’ complaints have been about restarting QE only, with barely a squeak against cutting rates. This is no doubt an acknowledgment that something has to be done to stop the euro from rising.
One can certainly sympathize with the hawkish view that more QE now will be largely meaningless in actual economic impact. Germany, along with the rest of Europe to an increasing degree, is really suffering from an external problem: a sharp drop in manufacturing export orders. The ECB swallowing up even more government bonds isn’t going to solve this, and weakening the euro through lower interest rates is merely a sticking plaster that inflicts collateral damage on Europe’s banks (who find it hard to make a profit on ultra-low rates).