ECB Braces For QE As Others Shift Rates
Greek funding and quantitative easing in Europe, an expected rate cut in Australia and the buoyant U.S. labor market are set to be the focus of an economic week dominated by a host of central bank meetings.
Greece may have secured an extension of its bailout last week, but it remains reliant on emergency funding.
The European Central Bank's Governing Council convenes in Cyprus on Thursday and may take a decision on whether to accept Greek government bonds as collateral for its direct ECB funding, which it stopped doing at the start of February.
If the ECB does not – and it most likely will not – it could be forced to prolong the provision of Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) to the Greek central bank.
“The Greek question will be a hot topic,” said ING Chief Eurozone Economist Peter Vanden Houte. “(Greek Finance Minister Yanis) Varoufakis has been saying the country is counting on the ECB for finances over the next few months.”
ECB President Mario Draghi is also expected to provide further details on the bank's 1 trillion euro ($1.1 trillion) government bond buying program, which begins in March.
He may face questions about the program's ability to reach its target, such as how the ECB intends to convince domestic banks to sell their government debt, with the prospect of then parking the money with the ECB at a negative interest rate.
The ECB will also release new economic forecasts. Chief Economist Peter Praet said last week that it was likely to revise upward its expectations for growth in the euro zone, with low oil prices and a weak euro helping.
AUSSIE, POLE RATE CUTS, BRAZIL HIKE
The ECB will be just one of many central banks to meet.
The Reserve Bank of Australia opens proceedings on Tuesday, its board meeting a month after it surprised markets with a quarter percentage cut to its cash rate to 2.25 percent.
A wafer-thin majority of economists polled by Reuters expect a further reduction to 2 percent to spur an economy hit by lower prices for its raw material exports and to keep downward pressure on the Australian dollar.
A day later, it will be the Bank of Canada's turn to decide on rates. It too surprised with a 25 basis point cut to 0.75 percent at its last meeting in January, citing risks to its outlook from week oil prices. By contrast it is seen holding fire on Wednesday, with a cut seen more likely in the second quarter.
On the same day elsewhere, a rate cut is expected in eastern Europe's largest economy, Poland, to counter declining consumer prices.. Brazil's central bank, by contrast, is seen raising interest rates for a third straight time as inflation races above the government's 4.5 percent target.
The Bank of England is expected to keep rates unchanged at its meeting on Thursday.
U.S. JOBS COULD SIGNAL END OF FED 'PATIENT' STANCE
In the United States, labor market data for February on Friday are likely to be the highlight of the economic week, a major data point ahead of the Federal Reserve's rate-setting committee meeting on March 17-18.
Economists polled by Reuters are forecasting a healthy 240,000 rise in non-farm payrolls last month. If confirmed, it would be the 12th straight month of job gains of over 200,000, the longest such streak since a 13-month run in 1994-95.
It should be enough to persuade the Fed that the economy could cope with a rate hike and may prompt it to alter its forward guidance language, in particular dropping its view that it will be “patient” in normalizing monetary policy.
The missing part of the Fed action puzzle is inflation. U.S. consumer prices fell year-on-year for the first time since 2009 in January, supporting the view of those that believe the Fed will wait until September to start raising rates, even though core inflation inched up.
“The precise timing is probably based on inflation. Our view is that it will be September, with June an outside possibility,” said Bernd Weidensteiner, economist at Commerzbank.
If inflation is indeed the key, the focus on Friday could be less the jobs figures than average earnings, which posted the greatest absolute gain since mid-2007 in January. The growth is seen easing to a still healthy 0.2 percent in February, with a SmartEstimate pointing to a stronger 0.3 percent.
Finally, the prospects for a Chinese recovery should become clearer after official National Bureau of Statistics numbers on Sunday and final HSBC/Markit purchasing managers' index data on Monday and Wednesday.
Last week's flash HSBC/Markit PMI showed activity in Chinese factories edged up to a four-month high in February but export orders shrank at their fastest rate in 20 months.
On Saturday, China's central bank cut interest rates for the second time in just over three months to support the world's second largest economy.