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Britain's £30bn stimulus piles pressure on ECB

London's twin-pronged bid to tackle spread of Covid-19 increases scrutiny on rate-setters in Frankfurt today

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ECB president Christine Lagarde. Photo: Reuters

ECB president Christine Lagarde. Photo: Reuters

REUTERS

ECB president Christine Lagarde. Photo: Reuters

Pressure piled on the European Central Bank (ECB) yesterday for a credible response to the economic shock stemming from the coronavirus outbreak at its rate-setting meeting today.

The Bank of England (BoE) yesterday slashed interest rates by half a percentage point and announced extra support for bank lending.

The British government also unveiled a massive £30bn (€34bn) economic stimulus package, in a double-barrelled programme designed to stave off a recession triggered by the coronavirus outbreak.

The large, coordinated and decisive actions in post-Brexit London add to the pressure on the ECB to respond when its governing council meets today.

Outgoing BoE governor Mark Carney's parting shot returned the main UK interest rate to a record low of 0.25pc.

Last week, the US Fed also cut interest rates in a bid to contain the shock economic slowdown.

The scale of the Italian outbreak means the eurozone has already been harder hit by Covid-19, the fast-spreading flu-like virus that in weeks has driven the world economy to the brink of recession.

Economists at Rabobank now expect more forceful Frankfurt action at today's governing council meeting. In addition to a rate cut, liquidity measures to support banks are expected.

"The situation in Italy has deteriorated so rapidly that we have further adjusted our baseline forecast for eurozone growth now, taking it down to -0.1pc for 2020 from +0.2pc previously. This is entirely due to Italy," it said.

In Ireland, the Central Bank has limited influence on interest rates but can relax lending rules for the banks, using so-called countercyclical buffers.

Analysts at Goodbody Stockbrokers said lowering the buffer could free banks to lend as much as €10.5bn of additional credit into the economy.

The buffers are designed to slow lending in a boom and boost lending in a slowdown by ratcheting up and down the capital that lenders must hold.

Unlike interest rates common across the eurozone, the countercyclical buffers vary from country to country.

Irish banks currently hold an extra capital buffer equivalent to 1pc of Irish risk-weighted exposures.

"The Irish Central Bank here needs to be also considering the countercyclical buffers as a possible response to keep credit flowing in the economy," Goodbody Stockbrokers analysts Eamonn Hughes and Barry Egan said in a research note.

In London, chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak's budget is the biggest stimulus package since 1992, including deferred tax for firms hit by the slowdown and sick pay for workers.

He pledged: "I will do whatever it takes to support the economy."

That echoed former ECB president Mario Draghi's promise to save the euro almost a decade ago.

That promise reversed what had been a dithering and contradictory ECB response to the debt crisis.

Today, the focus will shift to new ECB president Christine Lagarde and her team including chief economist Philip Lane, and to whether and how quickly Frankfurt can target actions to support the economy.

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