ECB's policy decisions put euro zone markets on their heels

by IANS |

Rome, June 11 (IANS) Financial markets in the euro currency zone were reeling on the first full trading day after the European Central Bank (ECB) had stopped supporting national bond sales and indicated it would likely raise interest rates in July and September.

In an effort to curb record-high inflation rates, the ECB on Friday said it would roll back stimulus measures maintained to various degrees for more than a decade, Xinhua news agency reported.

Across the 19-nation euro currency zone, prices rose by 8.1 per cent in May -- the highest one-month recorded since record-keeping for the area began in 1997, ahead of the creation of the euro currency.

Though the ECB's moves had been expected, markets reacted strongly on Friday to the official announcement.

The euro zone's largest stock markets all fell on Friday. The blue chip index on the stock exchange in Frankfurt was down by 2.7 per cent, in Paris by 2.5 per cent, Amsterdam by 2.3 per cent, and Madrid by 3.6 per cent.

But the biggest decline was on the Italian Stock Exchange in Milan, where the main index lost more than 5.1 per cent of its value.

Italy, the euro zone's third-largest economy after Germany and France, is seen as especially vulnerable to recent global economic developments.

The country is one of the biggest importers of Russian natural gas, and its export-driven economy has been hamstrung by rising transport costs and other supply chain issues.

The Italian government's statistics entity and the European Commission have both slashed predictions for economic growth to around half the levels from the start of the year, before the start of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

The spread between bond yields in Italy and Germany on Friday spread to 226 basis points, its widest gap since May 2020.

Higher bond yields are proof of investor jitters, and a wider spread means Italian bond yields have climbed at a faster pace than those in Germany, considered a safe-haven among euro zone economies.

Economic growth expectations for the entire euro zone have been tamped down as a result of rising prices for fuel, industrial production and food commodities.

Economists say the economic impacts stemming from the Ukraine crisis are hitting everything from car manufacturing and transport costs to prices for wheat and labor costs. Indications are that the situation will get worse before it gets better.

The decision from the ECB to end its support for national bond markets in the euro zone and to lift interest rates at its next two meetings are designed to reduce the money supply and lower risks of economies overheating.

Mario Draghi -- Italy's Prime Minister and himself a former Governor of the ECB, who launched the policy of supporting some euro zone bond markets, while in that role -- said this week he supports the policies from current ECB Head Christine Lagarde.

But he also said he does not believe European economies are at risk of overheating.

"Rising inflation is not wholly the sign of overheating, but largely the result of a series of supply shocks," Draghi told the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development on Thursday.

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