Minutes of the ECB July meeting, released on Thursday, showed that the central bank has little understanding of what lies ahead for the European economy. The word uncertainty (i.e. unquantifiable likelihood of future events) were mentioned in the minutes as many as 20 times. Perhaps this is a record.
It is no coincidence that the ECB tried to speak about why it is important to distinguish between recovery and rebound. EU economy is experiencing some kind of pickup and the central bank wants to make sure that market participants and economic agents understand its characteristics. A rebound can gain momentum, but it is natural to expect that the rebound sooner or later runs out of steam. In contrast, economic recovery is self-sustained process which can be interrupted only by a shock of some kind. To put it in another way, the ECB doubts that the economic growth we saw in the summer is the beginning of a new expansionary phase of the cycle.
And indeed, it didn’t take long to see first confirmations of these concerns. On Friday we’ve got first signs of a slack in ongoing rebound on the side of mfg./non-mfg. PMIs:
Manufacturing and combined manufacturing/non-manufacturing activity in the Eurozone came lower than expected in August. Euro was sold aggressively on the news, which gives us a useful insight – slowing EU recovery may be heavily underpriced in EURUSD because of excessive focus on USD side:
The minutes also showed that positive economic projections from July were based on the fact that strong support from the monetary policy will remain in place. According to the ECB, normalizing policy too early would be like pulling out a lifeline for drowning, which indicates a reluctance to move the rate in the next year or two.
There were also hawkish moments in the protocol. For example, ECB mentioned that the size of asset buybacks under the pandemic asset buyback program (PEPP) should be viewed as an upper bound, not a target. In addition, according to the ECB, economic reports in recent months have been more surprising in a positive way than in a negative one, and some of the risks that the ECB was concerned about in June have lost their urgency.
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