MUNICH Germany (Reuters) - There were increasing signs on Monday that the European Central Bank will add more stimulus to the euro zone economy at its June policy meeting as inflation remains stuck at very low levels.
ECB Executive Board member Yves Mersch said the likelihood of policy action at the bank’s next meeting had grown substantially, warning about the risks of inflation staying very low for too long, even though there were no signs of deflation.
President Mario Draghi said after the ECB’s May meeting that the Governing Council was “comfortable with acting next time” - its June 5 policy meeting - but wanted to see updated economic projections from the bank’s staff first.
Since then, data has confirmed a slight increase in euro zone inflation in April to 0.7 percent, from 0.5 percent the previous month, but also shown that the economy grew much less than expected at the start of the year.
“The likelihood that the Governing Council will already act at its next monetary policy meeting in June has grown substantially,” Mersch said in the text of a speech for delivery in Munich.
He said the Governing Council was unanimous in its willingness to deploy both conventional and unconventional measures to effectively counter the risks of very low inflation over a longer period of time.
A too-long period of very low inflation risked unanchoring long-term inflation expectations, Mersch said.
He described various deflationary risks, and added: “We see no sign at the moment that such a deflationary scenario will materialise in the euro zone.”
Jens Weidmann, head of the German Bundesbank and who leads the hawkish camp on the ECB Governing Council, said inflation would stay low for some time and policymakers would pay close attention to the euro’s exchange rate in this context when taking policy decisions.
But he warned against taking too one-dimensional a view of the euro’s strength, stressing the importance of the stimulative effect of lower sovereign bond yields in the euro zone.
Investors’ renewed appetite for euro zone sovereign bonds could contribute to an appreciation of the euro but the lower yields should have an expansionary effect on financing over the medium term, Weidmann said in a speech in Frankfurt.
“It would therefore be too short-sighted only to take a one-dimensional view of the exchange rate and to leave out the stimulating effects of lower sovereign bond yields,” he said.
Last week, Reuters reported that the ECB is preparing a package of policy options for the June meeting, including cuts in all its interest rates and targeted measures aimed at boosting lending to small- and mid-sized firms.
The ECB has faced pressure from the French government to change monetary policy course to weaken the euro, whose strength poses risks to euro zone exports.
Weidmann, referring to demands for the ECB to tackle the euro’s exchange rate, said: “In order to strengthen growth and employment in the euro zone over time, member states must deliver competitive economic structures.”
Writing by Paul Carrel and Eva Taylor; Editing by John Stonestreet and Susan Fenton