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Eurozone Inflation Downturn Signals Potential ECB Rate Cut in June

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Benjamin Hughes

April 3, 2024 - 09:28 am

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Euro-Area Inflation Decline Paves the Way for ECB Interest Rate Cut

In a significant development that is reshaping monetary policy expectations, the euro area has reported a more pronounced slowdown in inflation than forecasted. This downturn has solidified the likelihood of the European Central Bank (ECB) implementing an interest-rate reduction as soon as June.

Eurostat Infographic

Inflation Slows, Raising Prospects for Rate Cut

Official data indicated that consumer prices rose by an annual rate of 2.4% last month, marking a deceleration from the 2.6% increase seen in February. This figure aligns seamlessly with the projections of a Bloomberg Economics Nowcast model. Market analysts had anticipated a slightly steeper inflation rate of 2.5%. Furthermore, a core inflation metric, which strips out the often erratic food and energy sectors, demonstrated an even more substantial easing to 2.9%.

Paralleling these figures is a building consensus among policymakers that they are now within arm's reach of steering inflation back to the ECB's target of 2%. The recent data supports the possibility of scaling back some of the monetary restrictions that came into force when price surges were catapulting into double digits. ECB President Christine Lagarde has been preparing the ground for a first rate cut in June, a decision informed by new economic forecasts and prevailing wage growth rates in the year's early months.

Consensus Among Governing Council and Markets

The overwhelming majority of ECB's Governing Council members, representing powerhouses such as Germany, France, and Spain, have consented to this timeline. Not many hold out for a more accelerated approach. The convergence in expectations is also reflected in the positions taken by economists and the money markets, indicating that a substantial unexpected event would be required to alter the set course.

Market traders have maintained their bets on the extent of rate cuts for the current year after processing the report, pricing in three quarter-point reductions beginning in June. Additionally, there is also about a 60% chance being ascribed to a potential fourth cut. This outlook has not changed much from the sentiment before last month's monetary-policy decision, which had entertained the possibility of up to four reductions.

External Factors and Rising Wages

While several external factors, such as shipping disruptions in the Middle East, have yet to significantly sway European inflation, and despite last week's bridge collapse in Baltimore—an important conduit for carmakers and other manufacturers—also unlikely to exert influence, there are domestic pressures to consider. Rising wages across the 20-nation euro zone could become a catalyst for increasing prices.

Philip Lane, the ECB's Chief Economist, has been adamant that wage growth must continue to subside before he can justify the reversal of some of the past interest rate hikes. Notably, even though a critical measure of compensation showed some signs of slowing at the close of 2023, salary increments are still outpacing 4%. This perpetuates persistent price pressures, particularly in the service industry, where labor costs heavily influence final prices.

In March, inflation pertinent to the service sector remained steadfast at 4%, while industrial goods—excluding energy—experienced a price growth reduction to 1.1%.

Diverging Trends Across the Region

There is a noticeable divergence in inflationary trends across different Eurozone countries. Spain's inflation rates have picked up pace after the withdrawal of government measures that were intended to cap energy costs. A similar uptrend was observed in Italy. Conversely, both Germany and France witnessed a third consecutive month of easing inflation rates.

The disparity in regional trends complicates the ECB's task of determining the best trajectory following their initial rate cut. Discourse among policymakers has begun to shift its focus towards the tempo of subsequent adjustments. Nonetheless, they emphasize that the ultimate decision will be heavily swayed by evolving economic indicators.

No Commitment to a Fixed Rate Path

Lagarde has underscored that the ECB will remain reactive to incoming data, highlighting a flexible approach to monetary policy. "This implies," she elucidated last month, "that, even after the first rate cut, we cannot pre-commit to a particular rate path."

The statement could be interpreted as a deliberate effort to temper expectations and maintain policy flexibility amidst an environment marked by uncertainty.

Acknowledgements and Updates

With assistance from financial experts, including Joel Rinneby, Barbara Sladkowska, James Hirai, and Alice Gledhill, this article captures the evolving macroeconomic scenario within the eurozone.

(Bloomberg) -- The reported relaxation in inflationary pressures and the simultaneous underpinning of expectations for a June rate cut provides a fascinating insight into the ECB's current monetary policy considerations.

Conclusion: Anticipating the ECB's Next Move

What transpires now hinges on any unforeseeable economic shocks and the upcoming data which will either reinforce or challenge the prevailing sentiment amongst the ECB policymakers and market participants alike.

This ongoing assessment, as new economic data streams in, will play a critical role in shaping the Eurozone's monetary landscape, while the world watches closely how the ECB navigates these complex economic waters.

Related Content

For further information on the euro area's inflation and economic outlooks, please refer to the following Bloomberg page: Bloomberg Economy

©2024 Bloomberg L.P. This news article provides an analytical recap of the euro area's current inflationary status and the ECB's prospective policy response, as detailed by Bloomberg L.P.

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