By Prerana Bhat
BENGALURU (Reuters) – The European Central Bank will reduce interest rates next quarter, according to a Reuters poll, with 45% of respondents saying the reduction in borrowing costs would happen in June.
The poll, which was released on Thursday, also showed the first ECB rate cut was more likely to occur earlier than expected than later.
As inflation moves closer to the ECB’s 2% target, the next move is almost certainly a cut, but the timing is still up for debate.
Investors are currently pricing in around 150 basis points of cuts this year, with the first reduction expected in April, despite pushback by some members of the central bank’s Governing Council against the aggressive easing calls.
While economists also expect the first rate cut next quarter, they differ from financial markets on the timing.
All 85 respondents in the Jan. 12-17 Reuters poll predicted the ECB would leave its deposit rate at 4.00% on Jan. 25. The central bank will cut rates in the second quarter, said 59 of 85 economists in the poll. Three saw a cut happening in March.
The more than 70% of respondents in the latest poll calling for rate cuts before July compared to around 57% who said the same thing in a December poll. As recently as November, 55% expected no easing until at least the second half of the year.
A significant minority in the latest survey, 38 of 85, said the first ECB cut would come in June. Twenty one said April, and 23 predicted it would occur in the third quarter and beyond that period.
More than 60% of respondents who answered a separate question – 27 of 43 – said the first cut was more likely to come earlier than they expected. The remaining 16 said later.
“If you’re hearing the ones (policymakers) that are the most talkative out there, which are the hawks … almost all of them have been pushing against the possibility of an ECB rate cut at least in the coming months,” said Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets.
“But stranger things have happened, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they do an earlier rate cut. Our view is still that they’re going to go in June, so we’ll stick to that in the meantime.”
The median expectation was for 100 basis points of cuts this year, taking the ECB’s deposit rate to 3.00% by the end of 2024. While 36 of 85 economists forecast the rate would be higher than that, 27 predicted a lower level.
When asked what was more likely on the magnitude of ECB rate cuts this year, 25 of 42 said bigger than they expected. The rest said smaller than they expected.
Headline inflation, at 2.9% in December, will fall to the central bank’s 2% mandate in the second half of this year, the survey showed.
Upside risks, however, remain as ECB President Christine Lagarde said the central bank is on track to get inflation back to its 2% target, but that the battle has not yet been won.
Sixty-eight percent of economists, 26 of 38, who answered a separate question said the risk of a significant resurgence in euro zone inflation over the coming six months was low, with 12 saying it was high.
“A significant resurgence in inflation is conceivable only in case of new supply shocks. The more important risk is inflation turns out to be more sticky than expected, especially due to wage pressures,” said Kristian Toedtmann, senior economist at DekaBank.
The 20-country euro zone was predicted to have entered a winter recession after it shrank 0.1% in the third quarter and was expected to have contracted at the same rate in the fourth quarter.
It would still be a shallow recession, as even the most pessimistic forecast pegs the economy to have contracted just 0.3% in the fourth quarter.
The German economy, which is Europe’s largest, shrank in 2023 but still dodged a recession. It was expected to grow 0.3% this year and 1.2% in 2025, the latest poll showed, slower than predicted three months ago.
(For other stories from the Reuters global economic poll:)
(Reporting by Prerana Bhat; Polling by Pranoy Krishna, Sarupya Ganguly and Maneesh Kumar; Editing by Paul Simao)