Prospect of hawkish ECB pivot sparks fresh burst of European bond selling
European government bonds were hit with a fresh wave of selling yesterday as traders raised expectations that the European Central Bank would assume a far more aggressive tack in pushing back against inflation.
Short-term debt, which is particularly sensitive to monetary policy, came under strong pressure in morning dealings yesterday.
Germany’s five-year government bond yield jumped 9 basis points (0.09 percentage points) to 0.03 per cent, leaving it on track to close above zero for the first time since 2018, according to Bloomberg data.
Investors are pricing in expectations that the ECB will raise its deposit rate from minus 0.5 per cent at present to almost zero by the end of the year, according to trading in money markets. A week ago, markets had signalled an increase to minus 0.38 per cent, Bloomberg data show.
The shift in sentiment came after ECB president Christine Lagarde declined on Thursday to rule out rate rises this year to rein in inflation that is running at a historic high of 5.1 per cent. Only last month, Lagarde had dismissed such a move as “very unlikely”.
Lagarde “signalled a hawkish policy pivot at yesterday’s meeting and we now look for a substantially earlier policy exit”, said Sven Jari Stehn, chief European economist at Goldman Sachs.
Goldman expects the ECB to end its asset purchase programme in June, followed by 25bp rises in September and December, leaving the main policy rate at zero by the end of this year.
Just as ECB policymakers seemed to have been stunned by the persistence of inflation, their decision to signal a more aggressive tightening unsettled euro-zone economists.
“What a mess,” said Erik Nielsen, chief economics adviser at UniCredit. Lagarde was “clearly shaken by the latest inflation number and wanted to buy insurance but [caused] chaos in the process”.
Lagarde said the ECB would not decide any changes in policy until it published new forecasts in March, which are expected to show inflation hitting its target over the next two years — a condition for it to raise rates. She said there was consensus among ECB policymakers that it should first stop net asset purchases before raising rates.
Giovanni Zanni, chief euro area economist at NatWest, said Lagarde appeared to be “morphing into a hawk” as she took more seriously the risks that inflation continued to seriously overshoot the ECB’s target of close to, but less than, 2 per cent.
“Inflation has been stickier than originally anticipated and risks are now tilted to the upside,” said Fabio Bassi, a rates strategist at JPMorgan.
The ECB’s pivot has also knocked the debt of other eurozone countries. Italy’s five-year bond yield rose 5bp yesterday to 0.85 per cent. It had traded at 0.47 per cent a week ago. Similar rises in borrowing costs also took place in other big eurozone economies such as Spain.
The gap between Italy’s 10-year government bond and the equivalent German Bund hit 150bp on Thursday for the first time since September 2020, in a sign markets are growing more anxious that a sharp tightening in ECB policy could hurt the bloc’s most indebted members.
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Articolo tratto da “Financial Time” del 05/02/2022