MILAN (Reuters) - European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, fresh from announcing a new batch of stimulus measures a week ago, urged governments to match the ECB’s effort with investment and structural reforms to help the flagging euro zone grow.
A day after incoming European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker unveiled his team, Draghi said it may also be useful to have a discussion about the overall fiscal stance of the euro zone with a view to raising public investment where possible.
Draghi stressed that the ECB, which last Thursday cut interest rates to a fresh record low and launched a new scheme to push money into the euro zone economy, could not support the bloc alone.
“My main message today is that only if structural, fiscal and monetary policies go hand in hand will the euro area see investment return,” he said in remarks for delivery at the Eurofi Financial Forum in Milan late on Thursday.
Draghi said the ECB’s policymaking Governing Council “stands ready to take further action if needed” but he devoted much of his speech to stressing the importance of investment.
Noting that business investment in the euro area has only slightly improved since 2008, while it is above its pre-crisis level in the United States, Draghi added: “We will not see a sustainable recovery unless this changes.”
“A decisive rise in investment is essential to bring inflation closer to where we would want to see it, to stimulate the economy, and to bring down unemployment,” he said.
To revive business investment, he urged governments to improve the regulatory environment for companies, doing away with red tape that he said can “sap entrepreneurial spirits”.
He singled out Spain as a role model for other euro zone countries in this regard, saying it was projected to rebound strongly over the coming two years, aided by business-friendly reforms.
Another way to support investment was to diversify the sources of financing for businesses, extending these beyond the bank-centred model that had been exposed by the financial crisis, Draghi said.
“So we also need to develop reliable sources of non-bank lending, such as equity and bond markets, securitisation, lending from insurance companies and asset managers, venture capital and crowdfunding,” he said, adding that he supported Juncker’s plans to create a capital markets union.
Turning to fiscal policy, Draghi called for a “consistent and credible application ... across time and across countries” of the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact, its budget rule book.
He said that within the existing framework, “governments can find space to support productive investment, and achieve a more growth-friendly composition of fiscal policies”.
However, the finance minister of Germany, which theoretically has room to boost spending, has rebuffed calls for Berlin to spend more to support the euro zone.
Draghi welcomed a 300 billion euro (239 billion pounds) European investment package announced by Juncker. The ECB president must form a close alliance with the new Commission chief if he is to be successful in promoting his call for structural, fiscal and monetary policies to work in combination.
Turning to the ECB’s monetary policy, Draghi sought to dispel concerns about its plans, announced last week, to buy asset-backed securities (ABS).
Banks create ABS by pooling various loans together and selling different tranches on to investors to lighten the load on their balance sheets, which allows them to issue new credit.
While he said governments should consider providing public guarantees for ABS to help support lending to smaller firms, Draghi added: “It is worth recalling that senior tranches of ABS have proven to be high-quality assets.”
The new measures — schemes to buy ABS and covered bonds — together with plans to offer banks new long-term funding from later this month “will have a sizeable impact on our balance sheet”, Draghi said, adding it “is expected to move towards the dimensions it used to have at the beginning of 2012.”
In early 2012, the ECB’s balance sheet topped 3 trillion euros. Last week, it stood at just over 2 trillion euros.
“Our efforts should ... be focused on jump-starting investment,” Draghi concluded.
“However, and this was really the crux of my argument, we will only manage to stimulate investment if structural, fiscal and monetary policies mutually reinforce each other.”
Reporting by Paul Carrel; Editing by Mark Trevelyan