ECB’s Kazaks Backs Longer Bond-Buying in Stimulus Boost

European Central Bank policy maker Martins Kazaks said an expansion of the institution’s emergency bond-buying program by 500 billion euros ($603 billion) would be “reasonable” and he’s ready to support an extension until mid 2022.

The resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic in the euro area and the likely negative impact on economic growth next year mean that the ECB needs to continue to provide support, the governor of Latvia’s central bank said in an interview from Riga. Officials are set to decide on how to boost stimulus on Dec. 10.

ECB’s Kazaks Backs Longer Bond-Buying in Stimulus Boost

In recent days, policy makers including Executive Board member Isabel Schnabel have signaled that enabling the 1.35 trillion-euro Pandemic Emergency Purchase Program to run longer than its current mid-2021 end date is a way to avoid an unwanted tightening of financial conditions.

ECB President Christine Lagarde pledged in October that policy settings would be “recalibrated” in response to the worsening of the pandemic.

“I think that the extension in time would come along with an extension in the size” of the program, Kazaks said. “My preference would be an extension by another six months, but if there is a proposal to extend it by another year I wouldn’t oppose it.”

Reasonable Number

The ECB has zeroed in on emergency bond purchases and ultra-cheap loans as their key tools when they adjust policy on next week. So far, the ECB has not signaled a willingness to reduce interest rates further, out of concern for the negative impact on the banking sector.

Kazaks said an additional 500 billion euros of bond buying looks to him like a “reasonable number” and “doesn’t sound very off the mark.” At the same time, policy makers should stress that the pledged size of purchases indicates a maximum that doesn’t necessarily need to be used up., he said.

“We need to bear in mind that the pandemic purchase program is an emergency instrument, and it shouldn’t go on longer than until the COVID-19 impact on the economy is erased.”

Echoing earlier comments from officials including chief economist Philip Lane and Finnish governor Olli Rehn, Kazaks signaled his support for a redesign of the current program of targeted longer-term refinancing operations, or TLTROs.

What are currently three-year loans could potentially be extended to five years, the Latvian said. The ECB could also discuss widening the range of assets it accepts as collateral. But the key focus would be to ensure the loans are targeted to reach those companies that need them the most.

Little Action

Banks can already obtain an interest rate on those loans that could be as low as minus 1% -- meaning the ECB pays them to borrow -- if they lend the cash on to companies and households.

Earlier this week, Schnabel signaled openness to extending the period in which banks can access the loans, though was less committal on cutting the rate further.

Kazaks criticized the political delays currently affecting the roll out of the European Union’s Next Generation multi-year budget and pandemic rescue fund. That risks over-burdening monetary policy, he said. The EU’s 1.8 trillion-euro spending plan is being held up by Hungary and Poland over conditions attached to the cash.

“Currently, the EU response, has been very much talk, but very little, if any action,” he said. “Monetary policy can provide support, but it’s mostly the fiscal instruments that can direct the flow of support to specific sectors.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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