AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The European Central Bank (ECB) will have to start discussing the timing of an interest rate hike in January, while the risks related to ultra-loose financial conditions continue to rise, Dutch central bank governor Klaas Knot said on Monday.
“No one can expect the current accommodative financial conditions to remain for long. And when they change it will become apparent who took on too much debt,” the Dutch member of the ECB’s governing council said.
Knot cited the recent turmoil in Turkey and Argentina as evidence of how fast financial conditions could change, and warned that “a turnaround is possible in developed countries too.”
A decade of cheap money has stimulated people and companies to take on more debt than ever, Knot said, while limiting incentives to pay off debts.
This risk-seeking behavior could lead to damaging losses as escalating trade tensions, a hard Brexit or U.S. interest rates rising faster than expected could all trigger a “sharp correction” on financial markets, the Dutch central bank warned in its biannual financial stability report.
Meanwhile, the ECB will continue to “cautiously normalize” its monetary policy, Knot said, meaning first of all that the bank will end its asset purchases at the end of this year.
“I see no reason not to do this and I don’t expect any reason will appear”, he said.
The bank halved its net purchases of bonds this month, to 15 billion euros ($17.2 billion) per month. It said it would maintain this pace until the end of December, after which the program was expected to end.
ECB governors will then start discussing the timing of the bank’s first interest rate hike since 2011, Knot said.
He stood by the ECB’s current guidance that interest rates would remain at their current, record-low level through next summer, but said this was only an expectation.
“And as any statistician knows, an expectation represents the midpoint in a collection of outcomes, and always holds the possibility of other outcomes to the left or the right of that point.”
Concerns over the Italian budget, which made the country’s borrowing costs soar on Monday while bank stocks tumbled and the euro weakened, had not changed the outlook for monetary policy, Knot said.
“The ECB is not there to correct or compensate purely national policies,” he told Germany’s Boersen-Zeitung in an interview. “Crucial for us is the euro area inflation outlook, and this seems unaffected thus far.”
($1 = 0.8713 euros)
Reporting by Bart Meijer and Francesco Canepa; Editing by Toby Chopra