Introductory statement to the press conference (with Q&A)

Mario Draghi, President of the ECB,
Vítor Constâncio, Vice-President of the ECB,
Frankfurt am Main, 21 April 2016

Jump to the transcript of the questions and answers

Ladies and gentlemen, the Vice-President and I are very pleased to welcome you to our press conference. We will now report on the outcome of today’s meeting of the Governing Council, which was also attended by the Commission Vice-President, Mr Dombrovskis.

Based on our regular economic and monetary analyses, we decided to keep the key ECB interest rates unchanged. We continue to expect them to remain at present or lower levels for an extended period of time, and well past the horizon of our net asset purchases. Regarding non-standard monetary policy measures, as decided on 10 March 2016, we have started to expand our monthly purchases under the asset purchase programme to €80 billion, from the previous amount of €60 billion. As stated before, these purchases are intended to run until the end of March 2017, or beyond, if necessary, and in any case until the Governing Council sees a sustained adjustment in the path of inflation consistent with its inflation aim. Moreover, in June, we will conduct the first operation of our new series of targeted longer-term refinancing operations (TLTRO II) and we will commence purchases under our corporate sector purchase programme (CSPP). Further information on the implementation aspects of the CSPP will be released after the press conference on the ECB’s website.

Following our comprehensive package of decisions taken in early March, broad financing conditions in the euro area have improved. The pass-through of the monetary policy stimulus to firms and households, notably through the banking system, is strengthening. However, global uncertainties persist.

Looking forward, it is essential to preserve an appropriate degree of monetary accommodation as long as needed in order to underpin the momentum of the euro area’s economic recovery and in order to accelerate the return of inflation to levels below, but close to, 2%. The Governing Council will continue to monitor closely the evolution of the outlook for price stability and, if warranted to achieve its objective, will act by using all the instruments available within its mandate. In the current context, it is crucial to ensure that the very low inflation environment does not become entrenched in second-round effects on wage and price setting.

Let me now explain our assessment in greater detail, starting with the economic analysis. Euro area real GDP increased by 0.3%, quarter on quarter, in the fourth quarter of 2015, supported by domestic demand, while being dampened by relatively weak export trends. Incoming data for the first quarter of 2016 point to ongoing output growth, at a pace broadly similar to that in the final quarter of 2015. Looking ahead, we expect the economic recovery to proceed. Domestic demand, in particular, continues to be supported by our monetary policy measures. Their favourable impact on financing conditions, together with improvements in corporate profitability, is benefiting investment. Moreover, our accommodative monetary policy stance, continued employment gains resulting from past structural reforms and the still relatively low price of oil should provide ongoing support for households’ real disposable income and private consumption. In addition, the fiscal stance in the euro area is slightly expansionary. At the same time, the economic recovery in the euro area is still dampened by the ongoing balance sheet adjustments in a number of sectors, the insufficient pace of implementation of structural reforms and subdued growth prospects in emerging markets.

The risks to the euro area growth outlook still remain tilted to the downside. Our recent monetary policy decisions have improved overall financing conditions, which should support the outlook for consumption and investment. However, uncertainties persist and relate, in particular, to developments in the global economy and to geopolitical risks.

According to Eurostat, euro area annual HICP inflation in March 2016 was 0.0%, compared with -0.2% in February, reflecting mainly a rise in services price inflation. Looking ahead, on the basis of current futures prices for energy, inflation rates could turn negative again in the coming months before picking up in the second half of 2016. Thereafter, supported by our monetary policy measures and the expected economic recovery, inflation rates should recover further in 2017 and 2018.

Turning to the monetary analysis, broad money (M3) continued to grow at a robust pace in February 2016, with its annual rate of growth remaining unchanged at 5.0%. As in previous months, annual growth in M3 is mainly supported by its most liquid components, with the narrow monetary aggregate M1 growing at an annual rate of 10.3% in February, after 10.5% in January.

Loan dynamics followed the path of gradual recovery observed since the beginning of 2014. The annual rate of change of loans to non-financial corporations (adjusted for loan sales and securitisation) increased to 0.9% in February 2016, up from 0.6% in January. Developments in loans to enterprises continue to reflect the lagged relationship with the business cycle, credit risk and the ongoing adjustment of financial and non-financial sector balance sheets. The annual growth rate of loans to households (adjusted for loan sales and securitisation) increased to 1.6% in February 2016, from 1.4% in January.

The euro area bank lending survey for the first quarter of 2016 indicates further improvements in loan supply conditions for enterprises and in loan demand across all loan categories. Improvements in the demand for bank loans were supported by the low level of interest rates, financing needs for investment purposes and housing market prospects.

Overall, the monetary policy measures in place since June 2014 have clearly improved borrowing conditions for firms and households, as well as credit flows across the euro area. The comprehensive package of new monetary policy measures adopted in March this year underpins the ongoing upturn in loan growth, thereby supporting the recovery of the real economy.

To sum up, a cross-check of the outcome of the economic analysis with the signals coming from the monetary analysis confirmed the need to preserve an appropriate degree of monetary accommodation in order to secure a return of inflation rates towards levels that are below, but close to, 2% without undue delay.

Monetary policy is focused on maintaining price stability over the medium term and its accommodative stance supports economic activity. As emphasised repeatedly by the Governing Council, and as strongly echoed in both European and international policy discussions, in order to reap the full benefits from our monetary policy measures, other policy areas must contribute much more decisively, both at the national and at the European levels. Structural policies are essential, given continued high structural unemployment and low potential output growth in the euro area. In particular, actions to raise productivity and improve the business environment, including the provision of an adequate public infrastructure, are vital to increase investment and boost job creation. The swift and effective implementation of structural reforms, in an environment of accommodative monetary policy, will not only lead to higher sustainable economic growth in the euro area but will also make the euro area more resilient to global shocks. Fiscal policies should also support the economic recovery, while remaining in compliance with the fiscal rules of the European Union. Full and consistent implementation of the Stability and Growth Pact is crucial to maintain confidence in the fiscal framework. At the same time, all countries should strive for a more growth-friendly composition of fiscal policies.

We are now at your disposal for questions.

* * *

Question: My first question is on the corporate bond programme: if you could give us some more details on the composition, the maturity, how the purchases will be carried out, and what is the contribution that you expect from corporate buying to the €80 billion target of your purchase programmes?

And you have said that you remain ready to use all instruments available within your mandate, so my question is if the so-called helicopter money, you consider it to be in the mandate; if there are preliminary studies in this direction to access the legal feasibility of such a programme in any form run into the prohibition of government financing.

Draghi: You'll get all the details of the corporate programme shortly after the press conference, but let me just say a few things here. I can tell you that the universe is addressed to all non-banks; also to insurance companies that have a certain rating. So if a company owns a bank but its parent company is not a bank, it's suitable, it's eligible. But if the parent is a bank then they are not eligible. The risk is shared, it's fully shared. The maturity goes up to 30 years. The issue limit is up to 70%. And they will contribute to the overall size of €80 billion per month.

On your second question, let me first read to you what – because I was actually quite surprised by the interpretation my words had. Let me read exactly what I said in the last press conference. The question was about what you asked, and I said, “We haven't really thought or talked about it. It's a very interesting concept that is now being discussed by academic economists and in various environments. But we haven’t studied the concept. It clearly involves complexities, both accounting-wise, legal-wise; and it may mean different things to different people.” Then in answer to an MEP who asked me about the same question two days ago, I said, “The concept is fraught with operational, legal and institutional difficulties. But the bottom line is we have never discussed it.”

Question: How do you respond to the German criticism of the ECB and personally of you over recent weeks? And if you were invited to speak at the Bundestag, would you go along?

Second question is about what you would call the mechanical update of your inflation forecasts: I'm curious, how much does the March measures add to the forecast? If you could give us a precise figure that would be wonderful. But I'm also interested in how the oil price increase and the real exchange rate firming affects the inflation outlook.

Chair: Do you mind picking two out of your three questions?

Question: One was about Germany, definitely. The other is the mechanical update of the inflation forecast, and what affects it.

Draghi: To your first question, let me say, the first thing is that we have a mandate. We have a mandate to pursue price stability for the whole of the eurozone, not only for Germany. This mandate is established by the Treaty, by European law. We obey the law, not the politicians, because we are independent, as stated by the law. And by the way, all this applies to all countries, to all politicians in the eurozone. This morning we had a brief discussion on this issue, and I can report to you that the Governing Council was unanimous in defending the independence of the European Central Bank and the appropriateness of the current monetary policy stance.

Having said that, let me say that our policies are not very different from policies that are being implemented in a very large part of the world, in all the other important jurisdictions. And our policies work. They are effective. Just give them time to fully display their effects. Of course, if there were also structural reforms, the effect of these policies would be quicker. But the bottom line of this is that our policies are: the necessary policies for return of the inflation rate to our objective of a level below but close to 2%;, the necessary conditions for return of growth to a higher level;, and the necessary conditions for the return of interest rates to a higher level than today.

On your other two questions, I can only say that the monetary policy measures that we have enacted in March had the effect of avoiding the second-round effects caused by the turbulence of the beginning of the year that would have had an impact on our medium-term outlook. There are estimates by our staff of the counterfactual, of what would happen if our policies had not been put in place, but they do refer to policies that have been put in place since mid-2014, not exactly to the ones that we've decided to that point in time. And the ones that I just mentioned, going back to 2014, they basically say that growth over this year, next, and 2018, would be 1.6% less than it would have been – than it will be, after the implementation of the monetary policy measures. And the inflation rate would have been negative this year, and if I'm not mistaken – it may well be I am – about half a percentage point less over the following two years. But as I said, these estimates do refer to the monetary policy measures that have been enacted since mid-2014.

Question: Tomorrow in Amsterdam you're going to discuss at a European level a proposal for possible regulatory changes to the exposure to sovereign risk of banks. I wondered if you have a position on that, if this is the right time, if they should be coordinating with the discussion at the global level in the Basel Committee, more generally, what is your position on this discussion?

My other question is about the creation of a fund in Italy between banks to participate in capital increase of other banks and acquire non-performing loans, which you've pointed out several times, are one of the problems affecting the European banking system. I wonder if you have any comment on that as well.

Draghi: If I may respond to the second question, by saying that we haven't yet examined completely the details of this. I can say it's a small step in the right direction. I would ask the Vice-President to respond to the first question.

Constâncio: Regarding this issue, we have discussed it and we have participated very actively in the Working Group of the EFC that has addressed and prepared the report.

Draghi: And I have asked him to respond because he's the one who's going to discuss this issue tomorrow.

Constâncio: And also we have been very active in the Working Group of the Basel Committee. So our position – which has also been discussed in the macroprudential forum where we have the Governing Council and the Supervisory Board at the same time – our position has been that first, there is reason to change the present system of zero risk weights; second, that the revision should not create undue turbulence in markets where sovereign debt is used, like for instance the repo market and in general short-term money markets; and third, that it should be a change in the international standard, meaning, coming out of the Basel Committee discussion – a principle, by the way, that is also mentioned in the Five Presidents' Report: that annual revision of the sovereign debt risk weight regime should be decided in an international context to ensure a level playing field.

So that has been our position. There are possible combinations of concerns with overconcentration of sovereign debt in the portfolio of some banks, by changing the risk weights accordingly and creating then a price disincentive for the accumulation of possible excessive holdings. But the three principles are the guidance for our position in all these matters. And also, we think that this is a separate problem from any other problem. It's in itself a consideration, a reflection, that comes out of the crisis, and a consideration of proper treatment of credit risk in the accounts of banks.

Draghi: Let me add, at least there are three sources of work, besides what's being done by the EFC and the ECOFIN. One is a report of the ESRB, another one will be a report of the ECB, and the third will be the report of the EFC, the Working Group on sovereign debt of which you are part.

Question: First of all I'd like to ask you about the global uncertainties, particularly which ones have become more and perhaps less worrisome over recent months. We've had some better data from China, for instance, but a rather disappointing conclusion to the Doha talks on oil.

I'd just like to return for my second question to the point on helicopter money. Very simply, do you think something that you would see as helicopter money could be done by the ECB in a way that is compatible with EU law?

Draghi: I'm sorry, the answer to the second question is the same: we never discussed it.

The answer to the first question: now, we've taken these monetary policy measures in March, and it was a very comprehensive set of measures. Since then, broad financing conditions indeed have improved, and we view these measures as being important in avoiding second-round effects in the wage and price settings. And, as I said in the introductory statement, growth is moderate but it's steady. Now, as things are moderately improving, we've got to be very careful about not losing focus from our main objective, which is the return of inflation to our objective of a level close to but below 2%. And inflation remains very low, will possibly be negative in the coming months. And this combines with the global uncertainty that was, I would say, highlighted during the IMF meetings in Washington.

So the result, the consequence for our monetary policy stance is that of course we keep the monetary policy stance as decided in March, and we now focus on its implementation. Second, our monetary policy course will continue to diverge from the monetary policy courses that prevail in other jurisdictions better placed in the recovery cycle. Third, if there were an unwanted tightening in broad financing conditions that would alter our medium-term outlook, the Governing Council stands ready to act using all the available instruments within its mandate.

Question: You've emphasised twice now that all your instruments stand open for use. Last press conference, you said that interest rates, you didn't anticipate that there'd be a need to cut them again. Has that position changed? And why, and how much further could interest rates fall? That's one question.

The second question is on the euro exchange rate. Since the last large package of measures, it's risen against the dollar and other currencies. How much of a concern is that? I know you don't target the exchange rate specifically, but it's an important economic factor. Does it say anything about the ECB's ability to influence the exchange rate?

Draghi: I'll answer the second question: as I've said many times, the exchange rate is not a policy target. It's important for price, stability and for growth, and we've taken the measures in March, and these measures have been effective and will be effective in avoiding second-round effects in the price and wage setting behaviour.

Let me, however, respond to the first question, and I'll just, again, read what I said last time about the continuation of negative interest rates: “So the Governing Council, although it gives a positive judgement about the past experience, is increasingly aware of the complexities that this measure entails.” Now, I've said before, and I've elaborated at quite some length last time about the complexities that this measure might entail. I should say that the experience has been broadly positive for the ECB.

It has affected positively the credit conditions, easing them. It has eased broadly all the financing conditions. We have no evidence that it hampered the transmission of monetary policy, and when we look at bank profitability, we see that 2015,the first full year with negative interest rates has not affected, or has not caused negative interest income, net interest income going down. As a matter of fact, it went up. Now, of course we've got to be cautious here because we talk about the aggregate of the banking system in the euro area, and of course aggregates may actually conceal different realities. We also saw no significant evidence that these negative rates had been passed through to the depositors or to the borrowers from the banking system.

So all in all the experience has been positive. Then one asks oneself, “Is this positive experience going to be true for any level of interest rates?” and the answer is no, of course. So the issue of negative interest rates is not so much an issue of yes or no; it's an issue of extent. So that's why the Governing Council said that it was increasingly aware of the complexities that this measure entails. And as I said before, if there is going to be an unwarranted tightening of financing conditions that would alter the medium-term outlook, our medium-term outlook, the Governing Council stands ready to act with all the available instruments within its mandate.

Question: You mentioned in your introductory statement that the growth outlook for the eurozone remains broadly unchanged, and so far the eurozone economy has been very resilient to external shocks, especially from the downturn or fear of downturn from Asia in the beginning of this year. So my question is to what extent is that a factor of the lower real exchange rate of euro and other measures, if you can comment on that?

My second question goes to the recently published creditor lending survey that has been very optimistic, with more than 30% demand rise for credit in the eurozone, while the hard data point to a 0.9% rise in loans to non-financial corporations. I would like you to comment on the difference in the extremely positive demand rise and the barely rising hard data.

Draghi: Growth continues to be moderate but steady. It's mostly supported by consumption and now investment, and it's dampened by the external component. Our monetary policy measures have been supporting growth, and I should say with rare exceptions our monetary policy has been the only policy in the last four years to support growth. And so it will continue to do so, but clearly, as I've said many, many times, not only monetary policy is a necessary condition for returning to structural, long-term, sustainable growth, but then you have to have other conditions. First and foremost is structural reforms, and that's why the introductory statement today receives this renewed emphasis on structural reforms – which, by the way, was highlighted in the last IMF meetings as well. And the third – what the IMF called the three-pronged approach – the third condition to be in place is an appropriate fiscal policy, where we observed that for the euro area the current fiscal policy is lightly expansionary. But again, the issue here is not only a question of size, but for many countries, if not most countries, in the euro area, the issue is a question of composition. A composition that is being called here “growth-friendly”: namely a composition with lower taxes, lower current government expenditure, and more public investment. This is the answer to your first question.

To the second question really, I would say the bank lending survey shows that credit continues; it's pretty solid. It went up without interruption since the second quarter of 2014. The number of rejections went down considerably and it has been going down steadily. That's also even more important, the continuation of this process. And so together with the dramatic fall in rates and an increase in volumes, this shows that our measures are indeed quite effective. There was another question in the bank lending survey, where we asked, “What use are you going to make of the APP, the asset purchase programme, proceeds?” And the banks answered that they were used mainly for granting loans, which is good evidence that the asset purchases, or the QE, as it is otherwise called, is being transmitted to the real economy.

But they also added that the consequence of the APP for them is more to adjust price and terms of the lending, more than volumes as such. And also they answered about profitability, which is going up because of capital gains, and funding costs went down. So these were the answers to the bank lending survey that portrayed a credit sector that is strengthening and is contributing to higher growth and to the return to price stability.

Question: German citizens are seriously worried about their private pension schemes because all of those are dependent on the interest rate level, and they have little or no yields. Are you familiar with these kinds of concerns? Did you discuss it in the Council, and what would you say to the German citizens who are worried about their pensions?

Draghi: Yes, we are familiar with these concerns. We closely monitor these developments. It's pretty evident that pension funds and insurance companies and other actors are significantly affected by the low level of interest rates. By the way, I would urge all the actors in this sector to resist the temptation to blame low interest rates as the cause of everything that went wrong and had been going wrong for years with this sector. But having said that, I think they are being affected by low rates, although one should keep in mind that they also realised substantial capital gains on the bonds that we are buying, because some of them are amongst the main sellers, the main counterparties in our asset purchase programme.

And also I would like to point out that low interest rates are not – in a sense, I did say before – are not a specificity of the eurozone. The United States had zero interest rates for much longer than we've been having low interest rates, and clearly the pension fund industry and insurance industry have been affected, but in a different way, and certainly not in the same way as the eurozone and especially the German pension fund industry and insurance industry is being affected. Now, this has to do with a variety of reasons, some of which have to do with the current regulation, some of which have to do with the business model. But basically it's not because of the monetary policy.

Second point: low interest rates are a symptom of low growth and low inflation. It's not the monetary policy consequence. As I said before, if we want to return to higher interest rates, beforehand we have to return to higher growth and higher inflation. To do so, we need the current monetary policy. That's the necessary condition. Finally, of course, we also need to look at real rates, not only monetary nominal rates, and if we look at real rates, one will see that the difference is much less dramatic. In fact, real rates today are higher than they were about 20, 30 years ago. But I am aware that to explain real rates to savers may be difficult. That's your job, I would say.

Question: My first one is on inflation expectations, and they have failed to pick up since the March package. I just wanted to know how disappointed or frustrated you are about this reaction.

The second one is on the criticism in Germany. The German finance minister was quoted as saying that the ECB's policy is to a large extent responsible for the rise of the populist party AfD. I just wanted to know how guilty you feel for that, and I guess – we all know that you met in Washington, and I guess you raised this point: I just wanted to know what your discussions have been on this issue.

Draghi: The discussions have been very positive, fruitful, and I would say quiet, and very friendly. Mr Schäuble himself returned upon his words – I don't have it here, what he said exactly, but you can check – saying that he didn't mean what he said, or he didn't say what he meant, anyway. He returned on this. And in view of my previous words – yes, he said, “I didn't say the monetary policy of the ECB is to blame for the emergence of the AfD,” and he said, “I pointed out that the feeling of insecurity among people who have to be concerned that there will be no or negative interest rates for a long time contributes to the bewilderment that we have seen in many election results,” which is what you were saying before, substantially, in your previous question. So that is the situation, which of course in light of what I said at the beginning in light of us having a mandate and being bound by the law, is certainly welcome.

Having said that, by the way – and I'm responding also to remarks made by other public figures – our policies are the same policies that are being enacted, by and large – of course, each country has its own specificity – the same policies have been enacted in other parts of the world. Second, would a non-Italian president run different policies? Well, I think, of course, the answer I would give, “Yes, of course,” but that would not be enough. My predecessor, Mr Trichet, two days ago he gave an interview where he said, “I would have done the same things that Mario did.” So he confirmed what is the assessment of the Governing Council in its entirety, which, as I said, today defended the appropriateness of the monetary policy stance, and defended the independence.

The other question is about inflation expectations. When we had low inflation for a long time – and we are going to have low inflation for a long time – we should be patient. We should follow and monitor closely how the – well, first of all let me say one thing. The future path of inflation is going to be supported by our monetary policy measures, first and foremost, by the recovery, and by the expected recovery and by base effects. We will see, as the first will more and more show its beneficial effects, as the second will more and more materialise, and the third, the base effects, will come true in the second part of this year, we will see that actual inflation will increase, and expectations will also follow that. What is true is that in the course of 2014 there was an increasing correlation between medium-term inflation expectations and current inflation, and oil prices. Which for us was the sign that it was important to act, and to act strongly, as we did. Now we have to be patient. The correlation with oil prices has decreased, but we have to wait.

Question: My question is really about animal spirits, as it refers to the criticism you've received from senior German politicians. Can I ask you, do you think at the margin, because this gets a lot of publicity, that it will affect business confidence and consumer confidence in the eurozone, and that people might resist borrowing for capital investment because they're concerned that the Germans are leaning on you and leaning on the Council, and that may inhibit you from taking all actions necessary?

And my second question is really about the same thing, with regard to Brexit. Has the Council seen any evidence that the Brexit debate in the UK is slowing UK plc investment into the eurozone ahead of the June vote?

Draghi: In answer to your first question, a polite, lively debate may even be welcome, because it helps us to explain better our monetary policies, and their shape and their success. But certainly criticisms of a certain type could be viewed or perceived as endangering the independence of the ECB, and therefore causing the sort of behaviour that you hinted at, namely delaying investment, delaying taking risks. However, we are independent, so we will continue in the course of the policy action that we consider appropriate. The result of all this is only that it will take longer for our monetary policy measures to produce the results that we want. Any time the credibility of a central bank is perceived as being put into question, the result is a delay in the achievement of its objectives, and therefore the need of more policy expansion.

The second point: first of all, let me state unequivocally that we view the participation of the UK in the European Union as mutually beneficial, and we will continue to say so in the coming weeks. Certainly the discussion about this possibility has already produced some significant consequences on the markets, for example a depreciation of sterling, quite significant. We do expect a continuation of market volatility, certainly until the referendum; I don't want to speculate about the outcome of the referendum, but probably even after the referendum. Is it enough to endanger the economic recovery in the euro area? The assessment of our staff is that the risk of this happening is limited.

Question: In the conference call that's usually dedicated just to policy announcement, today you said that you will focus now on the implementation of previously announced measures. And I wonder what the message is there and why you've decided to give it such prominence, to actually lift it into the conference call. Does that mean you think we're done now? Or could you explain that a little bit?

My second question is, earlier in the week the ECB said that following the extension of the QE programme that you decided last month, you now expect more national central banks to have to engage in substitute purchases. Does that mean, then, that you do see risks of scarcity emerging, at least towards the end of the programme? And now that you've branched into corporate bonds does it mean that that the next logical step might actually be equities?

Draghi: I can answer firstly your second question. The answer is no, we don't see a risk of scarcity, and we have not discussed other measures. And in answering this way, I will also in a sense anticipate my answer to your first question, and I'll read – I believe by and large it's the same words as the statement: "At our March meeting we decided on a comprehensive package of measures to ease financing conditions, stimulate new credit provision, and thereby reinforce the momentum of the euro area recovery and accelerate the return of inflation to levels below but close to 2%. Since then, broad financing conditions have improved, also in the context of receding risk aversion at global level. Our recent measures have been instrumental in avoiding that the financial turbulences that we observed earlier this year did not undermine the pass-through of our accommodative stance.” I think I would stop here.

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