By Prerana Bhat
BENGALURU (Reuters) – The European Central Bank will pause a more than year-long rate-hiking campaign in September, according to a narrow majority of economists polled by Reuters, but a further rise by year-end is still on the cards with inflation running hot.
There have been nine consecutive ECB rate rises since July 2022. But bank President Christine Lagarde began paving the way for a pause by telling a news conference after last month’s 25 basis point hike: “Do we have more ground to cover? At this point in time I wouldn’t say so.”
Faced with slowing activity – particularly in the 20-member bloc’s No.1 economy Germany – Lagarde also said incoming data would be crucial for future decisions, and either a hike or pause in September was a “decisive maybe”.
In the poll 37 – or 53% – of 70 economists predict no move at the Sept 14 meeting compared with 47% in last month’s poll, which would mean the ECB leaving its deposit rate at 3.75%, in line with market pricing.
The poll also showed 53% expecting a deposit rate rise to 4.00% sometime this year, with 33 economists saying September, and four October or December.
While markets are priced for a roughly 60% chance of a pause in September, they are split for year-end, with just over a 50% probability of a 4.00 deposit rate by then.
“Our baseline sees the ECB on hold for an extended period. However, inflation setbacks could still force a rate hike later this year,” said Bas van Geffen, senior macro strategist at Rabobank.
“With the ECB remaining data-dependent, September and October pose the biggest risks for another rate hike should data fail to give the (Governing) Council the confidence inflation is gradually converging to target.”
Flash data out last week showed core euro zone inflation, which strips out volatile food and energy, stuck at 5.5% in July and headline inflation, which the ECB targets at 2%, down only slightly to 5.3%.
Core inflation is forecast to average 5.0% this year and 2.9% in 2024 according to the poll, higher than the 2.5% headline forecast for next year.
Overall inflation was not seen at the 2.0% target until 2025 at the earliest, and more than 90% of economists polled see no rate cuts before the second quarter of 2024.
If the ECB hikes once more as the consensus view narrowly predicts, that would mean the highest deposit rate since the euro was introduced in 1999 and would amount to a combined 450 basis points of hikes in the current cycle.
The surge in price pressures initially driven by soaring energy costs has seeped into the broader economy and continues to weigh on consumer demand.
Germany has been one of the economies hardest hit by spillovers from the war in Ukraine and high energy prices, spelling trouble for the euro zone economy as a whole.
Despite revised data showing the 20-member bloc narrowly escaping a recession, its future prospects are not bright.
The euro zone economy will grow 0.1% and 0.2% in the current and next quarter, respectively, and average growth of 0.9% in 2024, the survey showed.
Sluggish economic growth was one of the major reasons for the ECB to signal an end to its hiking cycle from saying it had “more ground to cover” a few months back.
“We expect the economy to broadly stagnate over the next few quarters as the euro area will face several headwinds from high uncertainty, the lagged impact of the ECB tightening cycle… and less fiscal support,” said Michael Kirker, European economist at Deutsche Bank.
(For other stories from the Reuters global economic poll:)
(Reporting by Prerana Bhat; Polling by Anitta Sunil, Maneesh Kumar and Sarupya Ganguly; editing by John Stonestreet)