Friday 26 December 2014

Economy set to gain after surprise ECB rate reduction

Published 05/09/2014 | 02:30

Mario Draghi
Mario Draghi
International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde

A shock cut to eurozone interest rates will boost businesses, banks and mortgage holders here.

Most market watchers were surprised when the key eurozone lending rate came down from 0.15pc to just 0.05pc, a low unlikely to be seen again.

World stock markets and the Irish exchange surged after the European Central Bank cut its interest rates to the bone.

ECB boss Mario Draghi also announced an economic rescue plan that could see up to €500bn injected into the 18 countries that use the currency.

The cut announced yesterday, combined with the previous reduction in June, will mean annual savings of €240 in repayments on a €200,000 tracker mortgage.

Mr Draghi’s bid to kick-start growth across Europe comes at a time when Ireland is one of the few countries in recovery mode.

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While the move is primarily aimed at revitalising economies in Germany, France and Italy, for Ireland it means:

l Pressure on lenders to ease off on mortgage rates for new home buyers.

l Savers are the big losers as banks continue a two-year campaign of rate cuts.

l Exporters will get a boost as the value of the euro started to fall, making goods that are sold abroad more competitive.

l More credit is set to flow for small businesses.

l Existing variable mortgage holders are to miss out on benefits, as banks are unlikely to pass on the rate reduction to the 200,0000 with these mortgages.

Just a small number of economists expected the ECB to cut its main lending rate.

Tracker mortgage holders are in line for more savings.

The ECB's lending rate has now come down from a high of 4.25pc in July 2008. The move will benefit 375,000 tracker mortgage holders, and comes just three months after the last reduction.

Homeowners who owe €200,000 on a mortgage will save around €10 a month from the latest reduction, which works out at €120 a year.

This is because banks have to reduce interest charged on trackers every time the ECB cuts its rate.

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A rise in ECB rates is unlikely until well in 2016, economists said. Some people on trackers will now end up paying as little as 0.55pc in interest compared with an average variable rate of 4.5pc.

The latest decrease is unlikely to be passed on to variable rate holders.

Karl Deeter of Irish Mortgage Brokers said: "The rate cut will deliver little or no relief for variable rate holders."

However, pressure has begun to ramp up on banks to reduce the variable rates charged to new mortgage borrowers, and the 200,000 existing variable mortgage holders.

A family on a €200,000 variable rate will be paying €350 a month more than a family with the same-sized tracker rate. This works out at €4,200 over a year.

Recent research by this newspaper and Brendan Burgess of Askaboutmoney.com found that Irish variable rates are the highest in the eurozone.

Lenders have been accused by Mr Burgess of making a €1bn a year in super profits from variable rates. New borrowers here are paying around €4,000 a year more in repayments than the average in the eurozone.

Now the Professional Insurance Brokers Association (PIBA) has called for a cut in variable rates.

Rachel Doyle of PIBA said: "Banks were quick enough to raise variable rates when the ECB rate was going up. That should work both ways."

Speaking in Frankfurt, ECB chief Mario Draghi said the central bank planned to pump money into the 18 countries that use the euro by buying bonds from banks.

It is understood this move could amount to as much as €500bn, far more than previously thought. The funds are set to flow into businesses to allow them to borrow to expand.

The programme aims to encourage more lending in the economy by taking loans of the balance sheets of eurozone banks.

European stock markets, including the Irish exchange, surged and the euro current sank after the move to cut already ultra-low interest rates to prop up a struggling economy.

The unexpected measures sent the to a 14-month low against the dollar, at $1.3036.

A lower euro means exports from this country are more competitively priced when bought from countries that use other currencies.

This is expected to boost exports.

European bond markets were boosted by the news, which reassured investors in the face of heightened risks to recovery.

The latest action from the ECB follows a string of measures in June, when it cut interest rates and took the deposit rate into negative territory, as well as announcing a cheap €400bn package of funding for banks.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde welcomed the measures taken by the ECB.

Irish Independent

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