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--Debate To Centre On First Rise In Deposit Rate
--Decision Closer On Fresh TLTROs
     LONDON (MNI) - The European Central Bank is increasingly concerned a
deepening economic slowdown could prove longer-lasting, but more hawkish members
of the Governing Council will want to see more data before abandoning hopes of a
rise in the deposit rate this year, Eurosystem sources told MNI.
     While no serious discussion is likely before the ECB's March meeting on
whether to recalibrate its current guidance for interest rates to remain at
current levels at least through the summer, not all on the Council are in line
with a growing market consensus for a first hike some time in 2020, one source
said. Estonia's Ardo Hansson and Germany's Sabine Lautenschlaeger are among
those who still favour a change in the deposit rate from its current -0.4% this
year, the source said.
     "Clearly, there is going to be a controversial discussion although if the
data gets even worse that controversy may die down," the source said, adding
that a confirmed pause in the Federal Reserve's rate-hiking cycle could
nonetheless sway the hawks towards delaying a hike and that if a recession
occurred guidance could change towards the end of the first quarter.
     But another Eurosystem source told MNI that, given the long lead-in to the
current guidance, any change would be unlikely before the ECB's June
macroeconomic forecasts. Some Governing Council members want hikes postponed
until at least early 2020, the source said, adding that the main debate would
concern the timing of raising the deposit rate: "Some think it should be raised
only in small steps; others want to get out of negative territory as soon as
possible. So the size of the rise will also become an important issue as we come
closer to the June meeting."
     The only possible move at the ECB's Jan. 24 meeting would be further
adjustment to its assessment of the balance of risks, which it downgraded in
December from "broadly balanced" to "broadly balanced" but "moving to the
downside", the first source said.
     While a fall in the oil price has reduced inflationary pressure, some
officials are also concerned rising wages are failing to feed through to higher
consumer prices. China's economic slowdown, as it is locked in a trade dispute
with the U.S., is sapping demand for eurozone exports. The danger that the U.K.
could also leave the EU without any withdrawal agreement also casts a shadow
over the economy's prospects, officials said.
     "It depends very much on finding a solution to the China-U.S. trade
dispute. In the positive scenario the situation will develop along the path to
normalisation; but in the negative scenario I think recession is more-or-less
unavoidable," another Eurosystem source said.
     "It's more or less clear that, at least end of 2018, the first quarter of
2019, will see some downside surprises. We have already seen some, and there are
probably more in the pipeline. At least in the short-term."
     The failure of wage increases to fuel inflation is increasingly a concern,
the source said: "The traditional textbook also says it takes six to twelve
months for that transmission to occur. I think in general the theory is probably
still valid, but we are seeing long lags and remain vulnerable to any new
downside surprises."
     Only "something catastrophic" could prompt the ECB to backtrack on its
decision to end its net bond purchases in December, the source said.
     Any tightening effect from the ECB's withdrawal from asset purchases is
being mitigated by its continuing commitment to continue to reinvest bonds
maturing from its existing stock for an extended period of time past the first
interest rates rise.
     Such reinvestments are very likely to go on for as long as three years,
said two Eurosystem sources.
     The ECB will also consider a fresh round of cheap funding for banks under
its targetted longer-term refinancing operations programme. While not all in the
ECB are convinced of the need for a fresh round of the loans, they are aware
that some banks, particularly in Italy, may find it harder to meet their net
stable funding requirement ratios under Basel III rules once existing TLTROs
begin to cease to be counted as of mid-year.
     "A lot depends in Italy on TLTROs, and the banks are indirectly financing a
large stock of government bonds using this source. It will be a tough decision
[whether or not to reintroduce them]," one source said. Another added: "We will
want to avoid giving the impression that we are doing it just because some banks
want it or need it."
--MNI London Bureau; +44 203 865 3829; email:
[TOPICS: M$E$$$,M$X$$$,MT$$$$,MX$$$$,M$$EC$]