FRANKFURT (Reuters) - European Central Bank members all stand ready to take more policy action if needed to revive a struggling euro economy and the bank’s staff will prepare the groundwork, President Mario Draghi said on Thursday.
The Italian doused concerns about his leadership style, saying the whole policymaking Governing Council had signed up to a statement which confirmed previous comments he had made on the amount of money the bank aimed to pump into the economy.
The ECB kept interest rates at a record low 0.05 percent at it monthly meeting, waiting to see how measures already in train unfold.
After the U.S. Federal Reserve ended its bond-buying programme and the Bank of Japan increased its pace of money creation, markets are trying to judge how close the ECB is to launching more aggressive steps, such as quantitative easing money-printing to buy large amounts of government bonds.
Reuters reported this week that national central bankers in the euro area planned to challenge Draghi over his communication style at a dinner on Wednesday.
They were particularly concerned about his setting of an expanded balance sheet target after the Council agreed in September not to make any figure public.
Draghi has now built a united front.
He reaffirmed the target, telling a news conference the balance sheet would “move towards the dimensions it had at the beginning of 2012”.
He then spelled it out more specifically, naming March 2012 as the key month, at which time the ECB balance sheet topped 3 trillion euros, a trillion higher than the current level.
Differences among central bankers were to be expected, Draghi said, but concerns about his management style had not been raised at the dinner which focussed on how to give more information on policymakers’ voting records without undermining their independence or ability to speak frankly.
“It is fairly normal to disagree about things, it happens everywhere,” Draghi said.
“The dinner went better than expected,” he said.
The ECB chief said risks to the euro zone’s recovery remained skewed to the downside and ECB and national central banks’ staff had been tasked with “ensuring the timely preparation of further measures to be implemented if needed”.
“The Governing Council is unanimous in its commitment to using additional unconventional instruments within its mandate,” he said.
The euro hit a 26-month low and peripheral European bond yields fell in response.
“Heads of national central banks can disagree all they want with him,” said Brian Jacobsen, chief portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management. “Today’s policy statement is a resounding endorsement of Draghi’s leadership.”
To keep the euro zone from slipping into deflation, the ECB has started pumping more money into the banking system through purchases of private debt and offers of long-term loans, aiming to boost its balance sheet by up to 1 trillion euros.
There is growing doubt whether these measures will be enough, but the ECB is expected to wait until it gets a clearer view of the impact of its asset purchases and four-year loans to banks before moving further.
Sources close to the ECB have told Reuters that its plan to buy private-sector assets may fall short and pressure is likely to build for bolder action early next year, firstly moving into the corporate bond market.
More drastic measures in the form of outright purchases of sovereign bonds still face steep political hurdles, especially in Germany.
The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development called on the ECB to live up to a promise “to do what ever it takes” to revive its economy and begin purchasing government bonds.
Some economists are looking towards December when the ECB will update its economic projections.
ECB staff in September forecast inflation reaching 1.4 percent in 2016 - still below its target of just under 2 percent. Inflation stood at 0.4 percent in October.
“The ECB will have to slash its staff projections for growth and inflation substantially in December. That will be a strong argument for loosening policy further,” said Berenberg chief economist Holger Schmieding.
Writing by Mike Peacock Editing by Jeremy Gaunt