A LEADING executive in the ECB has given the clearest signal yet that eurozone interest rates are about to rise.
ECB executive board member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi said the bank may need to raise interest rates as global inflation pressures mount.
"As the economy gradually recovers and global inflationary pressures arise, the degree of accommodation of monetary policy has to be monitored and, if needed, corrected," Mr Bini Smaghi said.
Commodity-price increases will "have an unavoidable impact" and "it is a key challenge for monetary policy to avoid spillovers and maintain inflation expectations in check", he said. "This requires the ability to take pre-emptive actions if needed."
The comments of Italian Mr Bini Smaghi suggest officials are becoming more concerned about inflation, which has already breached the ECB's 2pc limit and is running at the fastest pace in over two years.
Another Italian, Mario Draghi, who is the governor of the Bank of Italy, is expected to replace Frenchman Jean-Claude Trichet as president of the ECB in the autumn. Market watchers expect the first rate rise to be in place before Mr Trichet retires.
Economist Austin Hughes with KBC Bank in Dublin said markets have priced in a rise in ECB rates in September, with some expectations the rise could come as early as July.
A series of up to six rate rises are expected by the end of 2012 in a move that would impact 400,000 homeowners here who have tracker mortgages, while an ECB rate rise would also be passed on to around 200,000 people who have standard variable rate mortgages.
Ulster Bank economist Simon Barry said this week he expects ECB rates to have risen from their current level of 1pc to 2.5pc by the end of next year.
A jump in eurozone rates to 2.5pc would push up monthly repayments by €150 for every €100,000 borrowed.
The ECB is concerned at rising energy prices. It has held its benchmark rate at a record low of 1pc for almost two years, helping the euro area haul itself out of recession.