...with Euro/dollar action today reflecting same.
Nowotny Says Taking ECB Benchmark Below 1% Open for Discussion
2009-04-09 09:30:03.4 GMT
By Jana Randow and Christian Vits
April 9 (Bloomberg) -- European Central Bank council member Ewald Nowotny said cutting the benchmark rate below 1 percent is still open for debate and it would be “sensible” for the bank to buy corporate debt.
“It’s my personal opinion that the benchmark rate should not go below 1 percent, but this is a point that’s open for discussion,” Nowotny, who heads Austria’s central bank, said in a telephone interview from Vienna late yesterday. The purchase of commercial paper and corporate bonds is “a sensible and efficient measure,” Nowotny said, adding it may not be introduced immediately because it would take time to prepare.
The comments suggest the ECB council is split over the best way forward amid signs the euro-region economy is slipping deeper into recession. While Germany’s Axel Weber has signaled he’s opposed to buying corporate debt and doesn’t want to take the benchmark rate below 1 percent, Greece’s George Provopoulos this week indicated both remain options.
The ECB this month cut its key rate by a quarter point, less than economists forecast, to 1.25 percent and delayed a decision on new tools until May. The Federal Reserve, Bank of Japan and Bank of England are already pumping money into their economies by buying government and corporate debt.
“If you’re aiming at intensifying credit supply, measures which focus directly on credit supply are of interest,” Nowotny said. “For example the purchase of commercial paper, corporate bonds and similar things.”
Still, he said this would “take longer to prepare” than offering banks longer-term loans to ease credit tensions. The ECB currently lends banks as much as they want at the prevailing benchmark rate for up to six months.
Lengthening maturities is “the best option” as far as speed of implementation is concerned, Nowonty said. “That means going beyond the current six months to an extension of, for example, 12 months. That’s something that can be implemented immediately and takes effect promptly.”
Longer loans pose some complications. Banks may not take up the offer unless the ECB signals rate cuts are at an end, and securing cheap money for a year may distort efforts to raise borrowing costs once an economic recovery sets in.
“I would happily accept this problem if indeed the economic recovery comes faster than expected,” Nowotny said.
“I think our task is currently to fight the worst economic slump in the post-War period with all available tools. If an improvement becomes apparent, I’d be happy about it.”