The ECB realises inflation may not be Europe’s biggest worry just now , by R.A.: IT REALLY is difficult to overstate the extent of the European Central Bank’s failure in recent months. Earlier this year, headline inflation rose in Europe behind rising commodity prices. The Bank of England and the Federal Reserve considered the increase in inflation, looked at emerging market efforts to tighten policy, tightening fiscal conditions in their economies, and general economic weakness and concluded that the bump would be short-lived. It’s not going too far to say that it was obvious it would be short-lived. But the ECB apparently suffers from a severe case of central-bank myopia, and so it responded to higher headline inflation with an April interest rate increase, despite the vulnerability of the euro-zone economy, and despite an extremely serious ongoing euro-zone debt crisis.
Since that time, commodity prices have dropped, just as everyone expected they would. Inflation has eased; in the euro zone, producer prices indicate that it’s come to a screeching halt. Meanwhile, much of the euro zone is facing a return to recession. Industrial production is contracting across southern Europe. And the euro zone is on the precipice of an existential crisis. Italian stocks have fallen nearly 30%. Spanish stocks are down 20%. Even German shares are off 13%. Oh, and did I mention that the ECB raised rates again just last month?
Having driven the euro zone to the brink of collapse, the ECB is seemingly happy to let someone else push the economy over the edge. In today’s monetary policy announcement, the central bank continued to warn about inflation but opted not to raise interest rates yet again. The ECB may also resume purchases of bonds to try and maintain function in sovereign-debt markets and limit rises in bond yields. It hardly matters at this point; the damage has been done. European markets continue to drop, and bond yields continue to edge upward. It will take massive government intervention to stem the crisis, and even if euro-zone governments succeed there is a risk the euro-zone economy will follow its peripheral members into recession. If the euro zone does fall apart, a fitting epitaph might read, “The ECB feared 3% inflation”.