JACKSON HOLE — Some European Central Bank policymakers want to discuss a 75 basis point interest rate hike at the September policy meeting, even if recession risks loom, as the inflation outlook is deteriorating, five sources with direct knowledge of the process told Reuters.
The ECB raised its deposit rate by 50 basis points to zero last month in an unexpectedly big move and another similar increase is also priced in for the Sept. 8 meeting as inflation is now approaching double digit territory with months to go before its peak.
While no policymaker has publicly advocated such a large move, back-to-back 75 basis point hikes from the US Federal Reserve and a stubborn deterioration of the euro area inflation outlook strengthen the case for such a discussion.
“I won’t necessarily back 75 but there is no reason it shouldn’t be discussed,” one of the sources, who asked not to be named, said. “If the Fed did it there is no reason why we should not at least put it on the table.”
An ECB spokesman declined to comment.
While 75 basis points is still considered unlikely given the expected opposition of policymakers from the bloc’s south, the comments strengthen the case for a 50 basis point rate hike and point to a hawkish momentum in the debate.
Isabel Schnabel, considered a policy hawk, argued last week that the inflation outlook has not fundamentally changed since the last 50 basis point move, a point seen as an argument for a repeat of an increase that size.
Inflation hit 8.9% last month, more than four times the ECB’s target but in a more alarming development underlying price growth, which filters out volatile food and energy prices, is also more than twice the target.
The 25-member Governing Council that decides on rates will still have another inflation print to consider before its September policy decision.
“Inflation is more and more broad and second round effects are clear,” a second source said. “The outlook is much worse than we projected in June so I agree that 75 should at least be discussed.”
Markets now fully price in a 50 basis point rate hike for Sept. 8 and see another 75 basis points of moves for the following two meetings this year.
“For me, 50 is the minimum. More data will come in before Sept. 8 but as of now, I see a strong case for 75,” a third source said.
RECESSION NO OBSTACLE
The sources added that a looming euro zone recession does not diminish the case for a larger hike, echoing to a degree a recent change in rhetoric across the Atlantic at the Fed.
A parade of US central bank officials have recently signaled a willingness to push rates higher and keep them there longer to bring inflation under control, even if that results in a mild recession.
Fed Chair Jerome Powell may reinforce that view in remarks set for Friday morning to the Kansas City Fed’s annual economic symposium at Jackson Hole.
Normally rate hikes exacerbate recessions and such central bank moves in a downturn are frowned upon, but Europe’s case now is unique, the sources argued.
The downturn is primarily a function of a supply shock – soaring energy prices and shortage of Russian gas – against which monetary policy is not terribly powerful.
“If you don’t hike, will energy get cheaper? No. In fact it could get more expensive since the euro would likely weaken and energy is denominated in dollars,” a fourth source added.
“But if you don’t hike, inflation expectations rise so we’ll have to do more later,” the source added. “The risk of not acting is far bigger.”
The gas price shock is also forcing some industries to curtail production, which then creates a shortage of supplies and that also adds to inflationary pressures, they added.
Still, the sources acknowledged that a recession would likely ease some price pressures and could help the ECB get back to target.
While longer-term inflation expectations are still broadly around the ECB’s 2% target, they are now showing some signs of “de-anchoring,” central bank speak for a public loss of trust in the central bank’s commitment to its inflation objective. (Reporting by Balazs Koranyi; Editing by Dan Burns and Toby Chopra)