Euro zone inflation rises to 2.6% in May

Above-forecast price growth in single currency bloc fuels doubt over pace of interest rate cuts

The ECB building in Frankfurt. Photograph: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP

Euro zone inflation rose for the first time this year, to 2.6 per cent, in a troubling sign for investors hoping the European Central Bank will cut interest rates aggressively this year.

The increase in consumer prices across the single currency zone in the year to May was up from 2.4 per cent in the previous month and slightly above the level forecast by economists in a Reuters poll.

Core inflation – which strips out energy and food to give an idea of underlying price pressures – accelerated from 2.7 per cent to 2.9 per cent.

Until this month, euro-zone inflation had been gliding gently down towards the ECB’s 2 per cent target all year, allowing policymakers to clearly signal they expect to start cutting the benchmark rate from its record high of 4 per cent next week.


Germany’s 10-year bond yield – a benchmark for euro-zone borrowing costs – jumped to 2.7 per cent in response to Friday’s data, its highest level for more than six months.

The ECB is still widely expected to go ahead with next week’s rate cut – which would make it the first big central bank to ease monetary policy since the biggest inflation surge for a generation started three years ago.

But with price pressures picking back up again this month and the euro zone returning to growth in the first quarter, investors expect the ECB to adopt a more cautious approach to lowering rates for the rest of this year.

Jack Allen-Reynolds, an economist at Capital Economics, said the jump in euro-zone inflation “won’t stop the ECB from cutting interest rates next week. But another reduction in July is now looking unlikely”.

ECB chief economist Philip Lane said earlier this month that “barring big surprises” the central bank was likely to remove the top level of restriction at its meeting next week in Frankfurt.

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He said the pace of further cuts would depend on the path of underlying inflation and the level of demand, which he warned was likely to be “bumpy and gradual”.

Euro-zone inflation was lifted by energy price growth turning positive for the first time in over a year at 0.3 per cent in May.

Some policymakers have warned that higher inflation readings will make the ECB less likely to make a back-to-back cut in July. Markets are pricing in two to three rate cuts of 0.25 percentage points this year.

The ECB expects euro-zone wage growth to slow from recent record highs and companies to absorb higher labour costs by compressing profit margins instead of passing them on to consumers via price rises.

This will be crucial in determining how quickly inflation in the labour-intensive services sector comes down this year. In May, euro-zone services inflation rose to a seven-month high of 4.1 per cent, up from 3.7 per cent a month earlier.

Yet some economists see one-off factors behind the recent rise in services inflation, including this year’s earlier timing of Easter and the fading disinflationary impact of Germany’s discounted public transport ticket.

“The rise in service price inflation is not a welcome development,” said Diego Iscaro, an economist at S&P Global Market Intelligence, adding he would wait for detailed data to show “if the end of German transport subsidies was the main culprit or if there were other factors boosting service prices”.

There are signs that consumers remain cautious despite their purchasing power being boosted by wages rising faster than inflation this year. German retail sales fell 1.2 per cent in April from a month earlier, separate figures on Friday showed, while French retail sales fell 0.8 per cent in the same period. – Copyright The Financial Times