Greece casts shadow as ECB leaves rates unchanged

Frankfurt also sanctions further emergency funding for Greece’s banks up to €74 billion

 Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank (ECB) during a press conference following the meeting of the Governing Council in Frankfurt . Photograph: Daniel Rolanddaniel

Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank (ECB) during a press conference following the meeting of the Governing Council in Frankfurt . Photograph: Daniel Rolanddaniel

 

The European Central Bank left interest rates unchanged on Wednesday, holding them at record lows as its money-printing scheme shows early signs of perking up the region’s economy.

With bank lending picking up and falling prices starting to bottom out, president Mario Draghi will be able to claim an early success for the €60 billion a month money printing scheme it launched last month.

The main refinancing rate, which determines the cost of credit, is now just 0.05 per cent, while the ECB’s deposit rate, which means banks pay to park funds at the central bank and has the most influence on market rates, is -0.2 per cent.

ECB policymakers sanctioned further emergency funding for Greece’s banks up to €74 billion, a banking source said, a reminder of the dire financial straits that the country is in.

Time is running out for Athens to improve a package of reforms required for the release of loans that it requires to stay afloat.

Were Greece, first bailed out in 2010 and again two years later, ultimately to tumble out of the euro, it would deal a blow to the credibility of the currency union.

For now though, the €1 trillion-plus money printing scheme to buy chiefly government bonds is underpinning confidence and most predict Mr Draghi will underscore his commitment to quantitative easing.

The QE programme has already prompted a rise in the value of bonds and investors are questioning whether it could become too costly for the ECB to buy sufficient quantities in top-rated countries such as Germany.

One tweak to the programme it is likely to make is to add some 10 debt-issuing national agencies to the list of those that qualify to sell the ECB bonds, said a person familiar with the issue. This would underline its determination.

Reuters