Европейская денежная система
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For more than five weeks the ECB has been conducting monetary policy operations, mainly in the form of reverse open market operations. The main operation will be carried out at a weekly frequency with a maturity of two weeks. So far, five such operations have been conducted successfully, at a fixed interest rate of 3%.
Besides the reverse transactions which constitute the main instrument for liquidity control and targeting interest rates, the Eurosystem offers two "standing" facilities: the marginal lending facility and the deposit facility. These can be accessed by credit institutions via the national central banks. The marginal lending facility is primarily a safety valve for short-term liquidity shortages in the banking system and thereby limits upward movements in money market rates. To some extent, its counterpart is the short-term deposit facility, which is used to absorb short-term liquidity surpluses. This forms the lower limit for money market rates. For the start of Monetary Union the interest rate on the deposit facility was set at 2% and the rate on the marginal lending facility was set at 4.5%.
As a transitional measure, the Governing Council decided to establish
a narrow corridor of 2.75-3.25% between the rates on the marginal lending
facility and the deposit facility from 4 to 21 January 1999. The intention
was to facilitate the necessary adjustment to the new institutional
environment brought about by the transition to Stage Three. As already
announced, on 21 January 1999 it was decided to return to the rates on the
two "standing" facilities that were set for the start of the single
monetary policy. Since 22 January 1999, therefore, the rate on the deposit
facility has been 2% and the rate on the marginal lending facility has been
A critical factor in this decision was the behaviour of the money
market for the euro area as a whole since the beginning of the year. The
Governing Council established that over time there had been a marked reduction in the difficulties experienced by some market participants with the introduction of the integrated money market and, in particular, with cross-border liquidity flows. All in all, the integration of the money market in the euro area reached a satisfactory stage only three weeks after its implementation. In analysing the money market it should be noted that, inter alia, there can be a marked difference between ECB interest rates and short-term market rates. On the one hand, market rates may include credit risk premia, and on the other, expectations may lead to differences between the two rates.
At its meeting last Thursday the Governing Council confirmed its earlier assessment of the outlook for price stability. Therefore it was decided to leave the conditions for the next main refinancing operations, on 10 and 17 February 1999, unchanged. They will be carried out as volume tenders at a fixed rate of 3%, the same conditions as the last such monetary policy operations.
In addition, in recent weeks the first longer-term open market
operations were also conducted, in the form of reverse transactions. These
were carried out on 14 January 1999 in three parallel tender procedures
with maturities of one, two and three months. The fixed rate tender
procedure was used. By contrast with the regular main refinancing
operations, the Eurosystem does not use these longer-term operations to
send signals to the market and therefore usually acts as a price-taker. The
ECB thus gives advance indication of the planned allocation. The interest rates which arise from these monetary policy operations should therefore be seen as indicators of prevailing market conditions.
Regular assessment of the monetary, financial and economic situation
To conclude, I should like briefly to report on the Governing
Council’s current assessment of the monetary, financial and economic situation. On the basis of these assessments the Governing Council decided last Tuesday to leave interest rates unchanged.
Taking into account the latest monetary data for December 1998, the three-month moving average of the 12-month growth rate of the monetary aggregate M3 (for the period from October to December 1998) remained more or less stable at 4.7%. This value is very close to the reference value set by the Governing Council. According to our analysis, the evolution of the money supply shows no risks to price stability. Credit to the private sector also grew strongly in December last year. Although at present we do not perceive any inflationary signals, further developments will be very carefully monitored.
With regard to the broadly based assessment of the outlook for price
developments and the risks to price stability in the euro area, monetary
and financial developments can be seen to indicate a favourable assessment
of the latest monetary policy decisions of the Eurosystem. They indicate
that market participants expect a continuation of the environment of price
stability. Long-term rates fell to new historical lows at the beginning of
1999 and there was an overall downward shift in the yield curve. Therefore, financing conditions for investment are currently exceptionally favourable.
At present the growth prospects for the euro area are, however, still
marked by the uncertainties relating to the development of the world
economy in 1999. These uncertainties have had a negative impact on
indicators of the economic climate in the euro area. There are widespread
expectations of an economic slowdown in the near future. This deterioration
in the external economic environment can be linked, above all, to the
financial crises in Asia, Russia and Latin America. However, there is a
mixed picture. While the growth rate for industrial production fell up to
November 1998, retail sales figures and consumer confidence have recently shown positive trends. Furthermore, growth in real gross domestic product in the euro area was relatively robust in the third quarter of 1998. In the
United States real growth in the fourth quarter actually turned out higher than expected. Measured against the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices, the HICP, consumer prices in the euro area rose by 0.8% in December 1998.
This is a tenth of a percentage point lower than in November. This development is in line with earlier trends. It can be linked, in particular, to a further decline in energy prices and a weakening in price increases in industrial goods.
All in all, the above-mentioned economic development and the available forecasts for 1999 do not indicate any noticeable upward or downward pressure on prices. Potential upward risks could arise from a change in the external global economic situation and any associated effects on the euro area, via import and producer prices. These developments must be carefully monitored. There is concern that inflationary pressure might develop in the event of a strong increase in wage prices and an easing of fiscal policy. Developments in the exchange rate will also be closely monitored in view of their significance for price developments.
Finally, let me emphasise that the current level of real interest
rates is exceptionally low. If real interest rates are taken simply as the
difference between nominal rates and the current increase in consumer
prices (HICP), short-term real interest rates in January 1999 stood at
2.3%, i.e. around 80 basis points lower than one year ago. Long-term real rates have fallen even more, by 110 basis points, and stood at 3% in
January. These levels are very low, both compared with other countries and with historical data. In line with the safe-guarding of price stability, the current monetary and financial conditions thus clearly support future economic growth. Monetary policy can do no more than this without jeopardising the great overall economic advantages of price stability and its own credibility.
Real structural reforms which increase the flexibility of the labour markets, as well as a continuation of the moderate increase in wage prices, would not only ease the burden on monetary policy but would also support employment growth. This will be all the more true if the deterioration in the economic situation this year is worse than expected owing to the negative aspects of the external economic environment.
The statistical requirements of the ESCB
Speech delivered by Eugenio Domingo Solans,
Member of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank on the occasion of a visit to the Banque Centrale du Luxembourg
Luxembourg, 25 March 1999
The booklet introducing statistical requirements for Stage Three, which the EMI published in July 1996, began with the bold statement:
"Nothing is more important for the conduct of monetary policy than good statistics." These challenging words show the importance which the EMI attached to this area of preparations for Monetary Union, and I must say this has been fully justified by our experience in the first few weeks of the life of the euro.
The statement of requirements
But let me start back in 1996. Because of the time it takes to
implement statistical changes in reporting institutions and central banks, a statement of prospective statistical requirements could be delayed no
longer. But that statement had to be made with very imperfect knowledge.
Nobody knew at that stage (for example) what definitions of monetary aggregates would be chosen for the single currency area, or what their role would be. Given the differences in financial structures in our countries, it was not clear how to identify the financial institutions from whose liabilities the money stock would be compiled. It was decided to define them in functional terms, and in such a way that money-market funds as well as banks of the traditional type would be included. It was not clear at that stage whether minimum reserves would be applied, and, if they were, what form they would take - although it had been decided that the banking statistics data would provide the basis for any such system. Implementation had to start quickly for the statistics to be ready in time for a Monetary
Union starting in 1999, but no one knew which Member States would adopt the single currency - though it was clear that the distinction between business inside and outside the euro area, would be of critical importance for monetary and balance of payments statistics, and would have to be planned for in statistical systems.
In mentioning monetary and balance of payments statistics, I do not
want to suggest that the statistical requirements set out in 1996 were
confined to these areas. On the contrary, they covered a wide range of
financial and economic data, including financial accounts, prices and costs
- relating directly to the ESCB's main responsibility under the Treaty, namely to maintain price stability - government finance data, national accounts, labour market statistics, production and trade data and other conjunctural statistics, and more besides. These areas are, or course, under Eurostat's responsibility.
The focus on the euro area as a whole
In formulating and implementing statistical requirements, it was
important to realise that the ESCB's attention would have to focus on the
euro area as a whole. Monetary policy cannot discriminate among different
areas of the Monetary Union - although in practice it may have different
effects because of different national economic and financial structures.
Focus on the area as a whole has important implications. The data must be sufficiently comparable for sensible aggregation; they must also be available to a comparable timeliness and to the same frequency. In some cases (monetary and balance of payments statistics) they had to be available in a form permitting appropriate consolidation. In short, with a few exceptions, it was realised that adding together existing national data would not be adequate. Important initiatives were already under way, such as the adoption of a new European System of Accounts [ESA95] and the implementation at national level of a new IMF Balance of Payments Manual.
However, wide-ranging statistical preparations would be necessary for the
ECB to have the sort of statistical information that the national central banks have traditionally used in conducting monetary policy.
How far the provision meets the current need
I arrived at the ECB about 2 years after these requirements had been released and 7 months before the start of Monetary Union. I must confess that I doubted many times in those early weeks whether statistics could be ready in time to sustain monetary policy decisions. There were anxious moments too in the late stages of finalising the monetary policy strategy: would the requirements set out in 1996 correspond to the need perceived in autumn 1998?
I am now sure that the decisions made in 1996 were correct. In practice, one choice in autumn 1998 was almost automatic: thanks to the work of Eurostat and the national statistical offices in the context of the convergence criteria (with active involvement of the EMI), there was no plausible rival to the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) for the purpose of defining price stability. I am aware that national consumer price indices are sometimes criticised for overstating inflation, because they take insufficient account of quality improvements and use outdated weights. While further development of the HICP is to come, and at present there is no satisfactory treatment of expenditure on housing, I believe that every effort has been made to apply the lessons from experience with national consumer price measures. The other choices for statistical elements in the strategy were less obvious. In fact the banking statistics reporting structure announced in 1996 proved able to provide the monetary aggregates and the counterpart analysis required, and - with a little fine- tuning - to meet the needs of a statistical basis for reserve requirements, details of which were also finalised in the autumn. We were thus able to begin publishing monetary statistics only a few days after the final decisions were taken (at the Council meeting on 1 December), and were able to publish with some estimation last month back data on the three monetary aggregates monthly to 1980, and a note urging caution on users of the earlier data.
However, the monetary strategy avoids putting too much weight on one
area or type of information. This is only partly for statistical reasons.
The formation of the euro area is a substantial structural change, which may in time affect monetary and financial relationships. So the ECB also examines a range of economic data for the light they shed on the assessment of the economic situation and, in particular, prospects for inflation. The editorial and economic developments sections of the Monetary Bulletin show the way the ECB draws on this information; the statistical information itself is set out in tables in the statistical section. Thus, in addition to money and credit and the HICP, the editorial typically touches on GDP, industrial output, capacity utilisation, orders, the labour market, business and consumer confidence, costs and prices other than the HICP, earnings and wage settlements, fiscal positions - naturally placing the emphasis on what are judged to be the most important developments at the time. All these areas were covered by the statement of requirements made in
I do not need to say that, at present, an accurate assessment of the economic situation in the euro area is of vital importance. The editorial section of the March Bulletin concludes that the overall outlook for price stability remains favourable, with no major risk that HICP inflation will exceed 2% in the near future, but there is nevertheless a balance of conflicting influences. To reach this judgement, the Bulletin assesses the latest GDP data (slower growth in the provisional Eurostat figures for GDP in the 4th quarter of 1998; declining manufacturing output), the labour market (unemployment falling slightly; some signs of rising pay settlements), and confidence indicated by opinion surveys (business confidence weak; the consumer mood rather optimistic). The economic developments section supports the overall conclusion, and analyses in more detail price and cost developments and of output, demand and the labour market. It concludes with analysis of the fiscal position in the euro area in 1998, and a preview based on fiscal plans for 1999. I am drawing your attention to this to show the variety of material supporting the ECB's assessment of the economic and financial position and prospects. Although we pay particular attention to certain items - the monetary statistics, with an emphasis this time on influences contributing to recent faster growth, and to the rather rapid growth of credit, and the HICP - we draw on a wide range of information in a continuous monitoring exercise. The establishment of an institution responsible for monetary policy in the euro area has caused a fundamental change in the use of macroeconomic statistics at European level, very much as anticipated by the Implementation Package nearly 3 years ago.
Priorities for further improvement of statistics
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Eurostat for their
efforts to improve the quality and comparability of economic statistics
relating to the euro area, and to deliver them to the ECB on a timely
manner. They have given this high priority and much progress has been made
in the last year or so. Further improvement will come with the introduction
of the new European System of Accounts [ESA95] starting next month
(although we must expect some temporary confusion following the introduction of a new system). Experience suggests that substantial statistical changes initially bring classification problems. Although, of course, provision has been made for back data to be available on the closest possible approximation to the new basis, we must also expect some discontinuity in important series. Implementation of last year's short-term
Statistics Regulation will bring improvements across a wide range of conjunctural statistics not covered by ESA95. There are also initiatives to improve labour market statistics. With Eurostat, who are responsible for all these areas of statistics at European level, we do our best in the ECB to promote better data. Perhaps I should underline our support here for the priorities established last year by a working group of the Monetary
Committee (the current Economic and Financial Committee), in which Yves
Franchet and two of my ECB colleagues participated (Peter Bull and Gert Jan
Hogeweg): in addition to quarterly GDP and short-term conjunctural statistics, these were government finance statistics, data relating to the labour market (including labour costs), and the balance of payments. At present the lack of comparable national statistics during the course of the year makes it difficult to monitor the fiscal stance in the area as a whole, and so to assess the balance of fiscal and monetary policy. Better labour market statistics are important, not only for the ECB's assessment of possible inflationary pressure, but also to improve understanding of the structure of labour markets in our countries, and the rigidities which impede the achievement of fuller employment. Balance of payments statistics
- a shared responsibility of the ECB and Eurostat at European level - require a new approach in compiling data for the euro area as a whole. We intend to publish the first monthly data for the euro area following the new methodology next month, and to begin joint publication of a quarterly euro-area balance of payments with Eurostat in the summer. But there are deeper questions about future needs for balance of payments statistics in the new circumstances which are currently being addressed. Principally, the question arises of the usefulness for policy purposes of national balance of payments statistics for Member States participating in Monetary Union.
There is no question, of course, that certain data in this area are needed within the ESA95 framework of national and financial accounts.
The organisational, legal and technical infrastructure
I have talked mainly about statistical requirements and their
provision, but this is only part of the story. The Treaty (specifically in
Article 5 of the Statute of the ESCB and the ECB) clearly envisaged that the ECB would perform statistical functions, assisted by and in co- operation with national central banks, other national authorities, the
Commission (meaning in this context in particular Eurostat), and international organisations. A large part of the preparatory work carried out by the EMI consisted of sorting out who would do what, avoiding so far as possible duplication, wasted effort and conflicting data, and keeping the whole development consistent with international statistical conventions. Much of this had to be framed in legal instruments, which would complete the statutory framework provided by the Treaty and the
ESCB/ECB Statute. Although work on an EU Council Regulation concerning ECB statistics began as early as 1996, the Regulation could not be finalised until last autumn and the ECB could not adopt legal instruments on statistics in advance of that event - much work in this area therefore had to be done at the last minute.
Information Technology is another of my responsibilities at the ECB.
I am glad to say that essential elements of our data transfer and statistical processing systems were in place when I arrived, or brought into operation soon afterwards. But here, too, there is room for further improvement - the EMI and the ECB in these early months have had so much to do in relation to the resources available that, broadly speaking, only the essentials have been provided so far.
"Nothing is more important for monetary policy than good statistics."
The formation of Monetary Union has shifted the focus of interest on to data covering the euro area as a whole. This has required substantial changes to statistics, which need time to settle down and are some way short of completion. At the same time, the adoption of the single currency is itself a massive structural change. This will surely affect economic and financial relationships and make any data harder to interpret, although these deeper effects may occur over a period and take some time to become apparent. What is clear, however, is that the ECB must take policy decisions and explain them publicly in terms of the data available relating to its policy responsibility. What we continue to strive to do, through our own efforts and with the help of Eurostat, is to improve the quality of the data underlying policy decisions, which are so important in gaining public understanding and acceptance for them.
The tasks and limitations of monetary policy
Speech delivered by Christian Noyer
Vice-President of the European Central Bank, at the Volkswirtschaftliche Tagung of the Oesterreichische
Nationalbank, on 10 June 1999 in Vienna
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure for me to be here in Vienna today and I should like to start by thanking the conference organisers for giving me the opportunity to elaborate on the tasks and limitations of monetary policy.
This topic is extremely important. Looking back over the history of economic thought, it is clear that the perception of what monetary policy can do and what it cannot or should not do has changed. This has clearly shaped the role of monetary policy in economic policy. In the 1960s economic theories suggested a long-run trade-off between inflation and output. These theories provided the intellectual basis for policy-makers to pursue monetary policies biased towards higher inflation. The high inflation experience of the 1970s together with new theoretical findings, especially on the role of expectations, led policy-makers to move towards lowering and stabilising inflation.
Theoretical considerations as well as empirical evidence over several decades suggest that high rates of inflation are clearly unhelpful - indeed detrimental - to growth and employment in the long term. A large number of economic arguments point to the benefits of price stability for economic growth and employment prospects. Stable prices eliminate economic costs such as those arising from unnecessary uncertainty about the outcome of investment decisions, the distortionary effects on the tax system, rising risk premia in long-term interest rates and the reduced allocative effectiveness of the price and market systems. To quote Alan Greenspan, chairman of the United States Federal Reserve, "Price stability is achieved when the public no longer takes account of actual or prospective inflation in its decision-making." Monetary policy must take into account the fact that the horizon for decisions by economic agents is rather long-term in nature. By guaranteeing price stability, monetary policy supports the efficient functioning of the price mechanism, which is conducive to the allocation of scarce resources. Price stability is a means of promoting sustainable economic growth and employment creation and of improving productivity levels and living standards.
Against this background, the predominant view has emerged that the best and most lasting contribution that monetary policy can make to long- term economic welfare in the broader sense is that of safeguarding price stability. Central banks throughout the world have been moving towards adopting long-term price stability as their primary goal.
In order to achieve this goal most successfully, independence from political interference and a clear legal mandate for price stability are of the utmost importance. A lack of central bank independence and an ambiguous mandate can easily force central banks to focus on the short term and, thus, fail to adopt the forward-looking, medium-term orientation that is crucial for a successful monetary strategy.
All these issues were taken into consideration by policy-makers when drafting the Treaty establishing the European Community and designing the blueprint for the European Central Bank. Both central bank independence and an unequivocal commitment to price stability are therefore tenets of the monetary policy framework enshrined in the Treaty. There can be no doubt that the European Central Bank (ECB) is determined and well-equipped to tackle its main task, namely, that of maintaining price stability in the euro area over the medium term. It will thereby make a significant contribution to the achievement of other Community objectives such as high employment and sustainable non-inflationary growth. In this connection, the pursuit of sound macroeconomic policies by the EU Member States would considerably facilitate the task of the ECB. The room for manoeuvre in monetary policy and the degree of success in terms of maintaining price stability are crucially dependent on the support of sound fiscal policies and responsible wage settlements in the euro area.
The Treaty establishing the European Community states that the primary objective of the European System of Central Banks (ESCB) is to maintain price stability. Without prejudice to this objective, the ESCB shall support the general economic policies in the European Community. It shall operate in a manner that is consistent with the establishment of free and competitive markets. The Treaty states explicitly how the ESCB shall set its priorities. Price stability is the first goal of the monetary policy of the Eurosystem, and a contribution to the achievement of the other objectives of the European Community can only be made if this primary objective is not compromised. However, there is ultimately no incompatibility between maintaining price stability and pursuing these other objectives. By maintaining price stability, the ECB will also contribute to the achievement of other Community objectives.
Of course, the ECB is concerned about the intolerably high level of unemployment in Europe, but we should realise that the role of monetary policy in reducing unemployment in Europe can only be very limited. Many empirical studies show that the high unemployment rate is mostly the consequence of structural rigidities within the European labour and product markets. The European unemployment rate has, indeed, been high and stable over the business cycles in the past decade. Only structural reforms, preferably of a comprehensive nature, can therefore tackle the underlying impediments to employment growth.
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