European Central Bank President Mario Draghi explicitly cited government-bond buying as a policy tool officials could use to stimulate the economy if the outlook worsens.
“Other unconventional measures might entail the purchase of a variety of assets, one of which is sovereign bonds,” Draghi said in Brussels today during quarterly testimony to lawmakers at the European Parliament.
In opening remarks both today and after the ECB’s monthly policy decision, Draghi stopped short of mentioning government bonds when he said that officials had been tasked with the preparation of further stimulus measures. His comments today come weeks before the institution’s critical December meeting, when it will publish new forecasts that are likely to incorporate a lower outlook for the economy and inflation.
Draghi will succeed in boosting the ECB’s balance sheet back toward 3 trillion euros ($3.74 trillion), though he’ll have to override some policy makers’ qualms on quantitative easing to do so, according to a majority of economists in Bloomberg’s monthly survey published today.
Until now, the ECB has restricted purchases of assets to covered bonds, though asset-backed securities are now on its shopping list too. Data released today showed that officials accelerated covered-bond buying last week, with the total settled rising by more than 3 billion euros — up from 2.629 billion euros the week before.
As Draghi spoke, Italian and Spanish bonds rose. The yield on Italian 10-year debt fell 4 basis points to 2.31 percent and the yield on similar-dated Spanish bonds fell 2 basis points to 2.10 percent.
The ECB president began his comments in the parliament by presenting European lawmakers with a list of policy resolutions for them to pursue in 2015 as he insisted his institution alone can’t fix the economy.
“2015 needs to be the year when all actors in the euro area, governments and European institutions alike, will deploy a consistent common strategy to bring our economies back on track,” Draghi said in Brussels today. “Monetary policy alone will not be able to achieve this.”
“Monetary policy has done a lot,” Draghi said. “It can do more if structural reforms are implemented. It can’t do everything.”
While there have also been calls on governments to spend more where possible to help the recovery, that’s at odds with a pledge by Chancellor Angela Merkel to balance Germany’s budget.
“Countries which have some fiscal leeway should think how to use it in the best interest of their own economies and the euro area,” ECB Executive Board member Peter Praet said in an interview published in the Nikkei newspaper.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew urged Germany last week to spend more to spur the euro-area economy, saying Europe’s “status-quo policies” don’t support the Group of 20’s growth agenda. Germany and the Netherlands should “pursue more fiscal policies to boost demand,” he said in Seattle.
In the Parliament, Draghi said there is an “urgent need to agree on concrete short-term commitments for structural reforms in the member states” and on the “aggregate fiscal stance for the euro area.”