PRESS RELEASE

Annual accounts of the European Central Bank for the year ending 31 December 2003

18 March 2004

The Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB) today approved the audited annual accounts of the ECB for the year ending 31 December 2003.

The ECB made a net loss of €477 million in 2003 compared with a profit of €1,220 million in 2002. This loss was due primarily to the evolution of exchange rates, which adversely affected the value, expressed in euro, of the bank’s holdings of US dollar-denominated assets, but also to lower domestic and foreign interest rates.

The ECB’s accounting policies pay particular attention to the principle of prudence. In accordance with this principle, unrealised exchange rate and market price revaluation losses on the ECB’s holdings of foreign currency assets and gold are treated as realised and taken to the profit and loss account at year-end. However, unrealised exchange rate and market price revaluation gains on the ECB’s holdings of foreign currency assets and gold are not recognised as profit, but transferred directly to revaluation accounts. In 2003 the strength of the euro resulted in net unrealised exchange rate revaluation losses of almost €4 billion, after consumption of revaluation account balances of some €1.7 billion outstanding at the end of 2002. These losses were partly offset by the release of the entire general provision of €2.6 billion, which had been established previously to cover exchange rate and interest rate risks.

The ECB’s regular income is derived primarily from investment earnings on its holding of foreign reserve assets and its paid-up capital of €4.1 billion, and – since the beginning of 2002 – from interest income on its 8% share of the euro banknotes in circulation. Interest income in 2003 was adversely affected by low interest rates on both domestic and foreign currency assets. The ECB paid remuneration of €808 million to the national central banks (NCBs) on their claims in respect of the foreign reserve assets transferred by them to the ECB. The ECB earned total net interest income of €715 million from all sources – including €698 million from its share of the euro banknote issue – compared with €995 million in 2002. Thus, net interest income other than that earned on euro banknotes fell to €17 million, compared with €268 million in 2002.

The ECB’s administrative expenses on salaries and related costs, rental of premises, and goods and services amounted to €286 million. In comparison, expenses in 2002 totalled €372 million, but these included costs of €118 million relating to the central funding of the establishment of a Eurosystem strategic stock of banknotes. Depreciation charges on fixed assets amounted to €30 million. At the end of 2003, the ECB employed 1,213 staff (including 84 at the managerial level) compared with 1,105 one year earlier.

At its meeting on 18 March 2004, the Governing Council decided to offset the ECB’s net loss of €477 million against the general reserve fund.

The annual accounts will also be published in the ECB’s Annual Report on 27 April 2004.

Notes for editors

  1. Accounting policies of the ECB: Common accounting policies have been established by the Governing Council for the Eurosystem, including the ECB, in accordance with Article 26.4 of the Statute of the European System of Central Banks and of the European Central Bank (Statute of the ESCB), and have been published in the Official Journal of the European Union.[1] Although generally based on internationally accepted accounting practice, these policies were designed with special regard for the unique circumstances of central banks: they pay particular attention to the issue of prudence given the large exposures that central banks bear in foreign exchange. This prudent approach applies particularly to the differing treatment of unrealised gains and unrealised losses for the purpose of recognising income, and to the prohibition against netting unrealised losses on one asset against unrealised gains on another. All national central banks (NCBs) are required to follow these policies for the purpose of reporting their operations as part of the Eurosystem, which are included in the Eurosystem’s weekly consolidated financial statements. All NCBs voluntarily apply broadly the same policies as the ECB in preparing their own annual financial statements.
  2. Remuneration of foreign reserve assets transferred to the ECB: On transferring foreign reserve assets to the ECB upon joining the Eurosystem, each NCB acquired a remunerated claim on the ECB for the value of the amount it transferred. The Governing Council has decided that these claims should be denominated in euro, and should be remunerated on a daily basis at the latest main refinancing rate of the Eurosystem (currently the two-week euro repo rate), adjusted to take account of the zero rate of return on the gold component. In 2003 this remuneration resulted in an interest expense of some €808 million, compared with net interest income of €541 million earned on the foreign reserve assets.
  3. Allocation of losses: Under Article 33.2 of the Statute of the ESCB, a loss incurred by the ECB is to be covered in the following order: The loss may be offset against the general reserve fund of the ECB and, if necessary, following a decision by the Governing Council, against the monetary income of the relevant financial year.
  4. Distribution of the ECB’s income on euro banknotes in circulation: The Governing Council has decided that this income shall be distributed separately to the NCBs in the form of an interim distribution after the end of each quarter.[2] It will be distributed in full unless the ECB’s net profit for the year is less than its income earned on euro banknotes in circulation, and subject to any decision by the Governing Council to reduce this income in respect of costs incurred by the ECB in connection with the issue and handling of euro banknotes. Based on the ECB’s estimated financial result for the year ending 31 December 2003, the Governing Council decided in December 2003:
    1. to recall the three interim quarterly distributions already paid to the NCBs during the year amounting to €533 million in total;
    2. to withhold the final quarterly interim distribution of €165 million.


[1] Decision of the European Central Bank of 5 December 2002 on the annual accounts of the European Central Bank (ECB/2002/11), OJ L 58, 3.3.2003, p. 38.

[2] Decision of the European Central Bank of 21 November 2002 on the distribution of the income of the European Central Bank on euro banknotes in circulation to the national central banks of the participating Member States (ECB/2002/9), OJ L 323, 28.11.2002, p. 49. European Central Bank Press and Information Division Kaiserstrasse 29, D-60311 Frankfurt am Main Tel.: +49 69 1344 7455, Fax: +49 69 1344 7404 Internet: http://www.ecb.europa.euReproduction is permitted provided that the source is acknowledged.

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