ECB Press Conference: Lagarde explains decision to keep rates steady, speaks on policy outlook

Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank (ECB), explains the ECB's decision to leave the key interest rates unchanged in January and responds to questions from the press.

ECB press conference key quotes

"Economy is likely to have stagnated in Q4."

"Incoming data signal weakness in the near term."

"Some surveys point to growth further ahead."

"New budget rules should be implemented wihout delay."

"Inflation is expected to ease further over 2024."

"Domestic price pressures are high but some measures started to ease."

"Consensus at table was that it was premature to talk about rate cuts."

""We need to be further along in the disinflation process before we are confident about hitting the inflation target in a timely manner."

"Operation framework review work is advancing at a fast pace. The outcome is most likely to come by the end of the spring."

"PMI data is a small signal that recovery conditions are coming into place."

This section below was published at 13:15 GMT to cover the European Central Bank's policy announcements and the market reaction.

The European Central Bank (ECB) announced on Thursday that it left key rates unchanged following the January policy meeting. With this decision, the interest rate on the main refinancing operations and the interest rates on the marginal lending facility and the deposit facility will stay at 4.50%, 4.75% and 4.00%, respectively.

Follow our live coverage of the ECB policy decisions and the market reaction.

ECB policy statement key takeaways

"Aside from an energy-related upward base effect on headline inflation, declining trend in underlying inflation has continued, and past interest rate increases keep being transmitted forcefully into financing conditions."

"Based on current assessment, ECB considers that interest rates are at levels that, maintained for a sufficiently long duration, will make a substantial contribution to this goal."

"Future decisions will ensure that its policy rates will be set at sufficiently restrictive levels for as long as necessary."

"Interest rate decisions will be based on the assessment of inflation outlook in light of incoming economic and financial data, dynamics of underlying inflation and strength of monetary policy transmission."

"APP and Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP) portfolio is declining at a measured and predictable pace, as Eurosystem no longer reinvests principal payments from maturing securities."

"ECB intends to continue to reinvest, in full, principal payments from maturing securities purchased under pepp during first half of 2024."

"Over the second half of the year, ECB intends to reduce PEPP portfolio by €7.5 billion per month on average."

"ECB intends to discontinue reinvestments under PEPP at end of 2024."

"ECB will continue applying flexibility in reinvesting redemptions coming due in PEPP portfolio, with a view to countering risks to monetary policy transmission mechanism related to pandemic."

Market reaction to ECB policy decisions

EUR/USD showed no immediate reaction to the ECB's policy announcements and was last seen trading in its daily range at around 1.0900.

Euro price this week

The table below shows the percentage change of Euro (EUR) against listed major currencies this week. Euro was the strongest against the Canadian Dollar.

USD   0.01% -0.27% 0.52% 0.09% -0.35% -0.07% -0.43%
EUR 0.03%   -0.24% 0.55% 0.11% -0.32% -0.04% -0.40%
GBP 0.27% 0.25%   0.76% 0.33% -0.08% 0.19% -0.18%
CAD -0.52% -0.51% -0.79%   -0.44% -0.86% -0.60% -0.97%
AUD -0.09% -0.07% -0.33% 0.48%   -0.43% -0.13% -0.50%
JPY 0.29% 0.34% 0.13% 0.85% 0.41%   0.29% -0.10%
NZD 0.07% 0.06% -0.21% 0.57% 0.14% -0.31%   -0.39%
CHF 0.43% 0.42% 0.17% 0.96% 0.49% 0.08% 0.35%  

The heat map shows percentage changes of major currencies against each other. The base currency is picked from the left column, while the quote currency is picked from the top row. For example, if you pick the Euro from the left column and move along the horizontal line to the Japanese Yen, the percentage change displayed in the box will represent EUR (base)/JPY (quote).



This section below was published as a preview of the European Central Bank (ECB) policy announcements at 08:05 GMT.

  • The European Central Bank is expected to maintain its monetary policy unchanged. 
  • ECB President Christine Lagarde hinted at summer as the time to pivot.
  • EUR/USD should gain bearish traction once below the 1.0845 support area. 

The European Central Bank (ECB) will have its first monetary policy meeting of the year on Thursday, but little is to be expected from European policymakers. The Main Refinancing Operations Rate will likely be maintained unchanged at 4.50%, and the Deposit Facility Rate at 4%. If something is, the central bank will continue “tightening” through the reduction of reinvestments in the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP).

Indeed, the ECB is pivoting and rate cuts are on the table for 2024. Still, central bankers need further evidence underlying inflation is under control before taking such a bold step. 

Back in December, the Governing Council decided to keep the three key ECB interest rates unchanged, acknowledging  inflation  dropped in the previous months while estimating price pressures are likely to “pick up again temporarily in the near term.”

European Central Bank interest rate decision: What to know in markets on Thursday

  • Major central banks have held rates steady in the last quarter of 2023, as the risks of an economic setback weighed more than inflationary pressures. 
  • The United States (US) Federal Reserve (Fed) foresees three rate cuts throughout 2024, although FOMC members retain a certain dose of caution. 
  • EUR/USD peaked at 1.1139 by the end of December, entering a selling spiral afterwards and now trading below the 1.0900 mark. 
  • Alongside the ECB’s announcement, the United States will release the preliminary estimate of the Q4 Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The economy is expected to have grown at an annualized pace of 2% in the three months to December, down from 4.9% in Q3. 
  • Wall Street posted record highs this week, as investors hope the Fed will start sooner rather than later trimming interest rates. The odds for a March cut decreased lately, but speculative interest still believes rates will go down in 2024.
  • The ECB’s January Bank Lending Survey (BLS) showed a tightening of credit standards amid persistent risk perceptions.
  • Consumer Confidence in the Eurozone declined to -16.1 in January from -15, in December. 
  • The  January preliminary HCOB/S&P Global Producer Manager Indexes (PMIs) indicated that business activity in the Eurozone fell at the slowest rate in six months, albeit with downturns persisting in both manufacturing and service sectors. Contraction readings are widespread throughout the sectors and major economies. 

What to expect from the ECB meeting and how could it impact EUR/USD?

The ECB is widely anticipated to repeat the December decision of leaving the three key interest rates unchanged. Back then, the Governing Council expected headline inflation to average 5.4% in 2023, 2.7% in 2024, 2.1% in 2025 and 1.9% in 2026. Regarding economic growth, the staff projected it picking up from an average of 0.6% for 2023 to 0.8% for 2024, and to 1.5% for both 2025 and 2026. The general message was the “higher for longer” that introduced the Fed, as policymakers noted they intend to set policy rates at sufficiently restrictive levels for as long as necessary.

Meanwhile, inflation in the Eurozone has ticked higher. The Harmonized Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) rose to 2.9% YoY in December, slightly better than the 3% expected but higher than the previous 2.4%. The core annual HICP printed at 3.4% YoY, easing from 3.6% in November. Core inflation is pretty much doubling the central bank’s goal of around 2%.

The minutes of the ECB's December meeting showed policymakers did not discuss rate cuts. In fact, President Christine Lagarde pushed back against expectations on rate cuts in the press conference that followed the December announcement. "We should absolutely not lower our guard," Lagarde said.

However, things are not that clear ahead of the first 2024 decision. Over the last month, European policymakers have been commenting on the possibility and timing of rate cuts, forcing President Lagarde to clarify her stance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Once again, she said that the economic risk of cutting rates too quickly was greater than the risk of leaving them too high, adding aggressive rate-cut bets does not help the ECB. Finally, she ended up hinting at a potential cut for the next summer, somehow giving in to the market’s pressures. 

With that in mind, the focus will be on whether the central bank introduces rate cuts to the discussion in this January meeting and any clue policymakers could provide on the timing. The most likely scenario, however, would be President Christine Lagarde repeating the battle against inflation is not yet done, emphasizing the need to maintain rates higher for longer at the risk of price pressures resuming the advance. It is still to be seen, however, if hawkish words from the central bank’s head could positively impact the Euro, as bets against it are way too high. 

A dovish shift in Lagarde’s tone will be partially surprising and may put the Euro on a steep bearish path. 

As a note of colour, Reuters published on Wednesday a survey from the International and European Public Services Organisation (IPSO). The survey shows a majority of ECB employees think Christine Lagarde is not the right person to lead the institution, and that her performance is worse than that of her predecessors. 

Reuters also reported that “An ECB spokesperson said the survey was flawed and included topics for which the Executive Board or Governing Council rather than solely the President is responsible and that are not within IPSO's remit.”

The EUR/USD pair trades around the 1.0900 figure ahead of the event, lacking directional strength for a second consecutive week. Valeria Bednarik, FXStreet Chief Analyst, notes: “Financial markets are in wait-and-see mode ahead of central banks’ decisions. It may be the turn of the ECB, but it is worth reminding the Federal Reserve (Fed) will announce its decision next week. Investors need fresh clues from policymakers to place firmer bets.”

Regarding the EUR/USD pair’s technical perspective, Bednarik adds: “The daily chart for EUR/USD suggest bears hold the grip, but eased the pressure, as alongside the ECB announcement, the United States (US) will publish the preliminary estimate of the Q4 Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Nevertheless, the risk skews to the downside, with the pair posting lower lows on a weekly basis since the year started. In the mentioned time frame, the pair has been meeting buyers around a flat 200 Simple Moving Average (SMA) at 1.0845, the level to pierce ahead of a steeper slide. At the same time, technical indicators remain within negative levels, with no signs of particular directional interest.”

Additionally, Bednarik notes: “Buyers would need to recover the 1.1000 threshold to have a chance of beating bears. In such a scenario, and if the pair is able to sustain gains after the dust settles, the rally could continue initially towards the 1.1040-1.1060 ahead, while beyond the latter, the pair could extend gains up to the 1.1120 price zone.” 


What is the ECB and how does it influence the Euro?

The European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, Germany, is the reserve bank for the Eurozone. The ECB sets interest rates and manages monetary policy for the region.
The ECB primary mandate is to maintain price stability, which means keeping inflation at around 2%. Its primary tool for achieving this is by raising or lowering interest rates. Relatively high interest rates will usually result in a stronger Euro and vice versa.
The ECB Governing Council makes monetary policy decisions at meetings held eight times a year. Decisions are made by heads of the Eurozone national banks and six permanent members, including the President of the ECB, Christine Lagarde.

What is Quantitative Easing (QE) and how does it affect the Euro?

In extreme situations, the European Central Bank can enact a policy tool called Quantitative Easing. QE is the process by which the ECB prints Euros and uses them to buy assets – usually government or corporate bonds – from banks and other financial institutions. QE usually results in a weaker Euro.
QE is a last resort when simply lowering interest rates is unlikely to achieve the objective of price stability. The ECB used it during the Great Financial Crisis in 2009-11, in 2015 when inflation remained stubbornly low, as well as during the covid pandemic.

What is Quantitative tightening (QT) and how does it affect the Euro?

Quantitative tightening (QT) is the reverse of QE. It is undertaken after QE when an economic recovery is underway and inflation starts rising. Whilst in QE the European Central Bank (ECB) purchases government and corporate bonds from financial institutions to provide them with liquidity, in QT the ECB stops buying more bonds, and stops reinvesting the principal maturing on the bonds it already holds. It is usually positive (or bullish) for the Euro.

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