Tuesday 26 March 2019

Slowdown 'significant' French rate setter warns

Irish CEOs fearful of uncertainty

ECB policymaker Francois Villeroy de Galhau, who is also governor of the Bank of France
ECB policymaker Francois Villeroy de Galhau, who is also governor of the Bank of France

William Horobin and Gavin McLoughlin

The slowdown of the European economy is "significant" and the European Central Bank (ECB) could change its interest rates guidance if it becomes clear the situation isn't temporary, an ECB governing council member has said.

The extent of the weakness at the end of 2018 has taken policymakers by surprise, with Italy entering recession and Germany narrowly avoiding the same fate.

The ECB has so far stuck to its guidance that it will keep borrowing costs at record lows at least through the summer, indicating hikes could come after that.

Asked in an interview with Spanish paper 'El Pais' if poor economic data decreases the likelihood of a rate increase after the summer, Francois Villeroy de Galhau, who is governor of the Bank of France, said the ECB will look at the numbers.

"The key question will be if the slowdown is temporary - with a bounce-back during this year - or more durable," he said.

The comments are another dovish signal after Executive Board member Benoit Coeure said on Friday that the ECB is discussing whether to offer new longer-term loans to banks.

Speaking in an interview with German newspaper 'Handelsblatt', Finnish central bank governor Olli Rehn said the ECB needed a "clear and convincing monetary policy case" for deploying new longer-term loans. He said that "the design is key, because it determines which impact they have on the economy".

Mr Rehn, seen among front runners to succeed Mario Draghi as ECB president, said that if growth in the eurozone weakens even more, the ECB "has all its instruments available". He also urged Germany, the euro area's biggest economy, to invest more into its digital and traffic infrastructure.

Mr Villeroy told 'El Pais' that the ECB could be "extremely efficient" using a trio of instruments, including tools for increasing liquidity to banks, as well as its stock of asset purchases and interest rates.

"We will be pragmatic in using this trio," he said. Mr Villeroy said the main problem facing the eurozone economy is global political uncertainty. That hurts Germany more than other European countries such as France and Spain, where economies rely more on domestic demand, which is resilient, he said.

At home, with Brexit looming uncertainty is among the top concerns for corporate CEOs, according to a new survey by PwC.

Irish bosses' most pressing concern was skills shortages The survey found, although it was taken in the autumn before a recent slew of negative European data. Feargal O'Rourke, managing partner with PwC in Ireland, said digital roles are in demand as more and more business is carried out online. He said financial services firms are seeing a talent squeeze with firms relocating here because of Brexit, while construction is also facing a skills shortage with demand for housing outstripping supply.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg

Irish Independent

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