Monetary policy statement (with Q&A) (2024)

Christine Lagarde, President of the ECB,
Luis de Guindos, Vice-President of the ECB

Frankfurt am Main, 6 June 2024

Jump to the transcript of the questions and answers

Good afternoon, the Vice-President and I welcome you to our press conference.

The Governing Council today decided to lower the three key ECB interest rates by 25 basis points. Based on our updated assessment of the inflation outlook, the dynamics of underlying inflation and the strength of monetary policy transmission, it is now appropriate to moderate the degree of monetary policy restriction after nine months of holding rates steady. Since our meeting in September 2023, inflation has fallen by more than 2.5 percentage points and the inflation outlook has improved markedly. Underlying inflation has also eased, reinforcing the signs that price pressures have weakened, and inflation expectations have declined at all horizons. Monetary policy has kept financing conditions restrictive. By dampening demand and keeping inflation expectations well anchored, this has made a major contribution to bringing inflation back down.

At the same time, despite the progress over recent quarters, domestic price pressures remain strong as wage growth is elevated, and inflation is likely to stay above target well into next year. The latest Eurosystem staff projections for both headline and core inflation have been revised up for 2024 and 2025 compared with the March projections. Staff now see headline inflation averaging 2.5 per cent in 2024, 2.2 per cent in 2025 and 1.9 per cent in 2026. For inflation excluding energy and food, staff project an average of 2.8 per cent in 2024, 2.2 per cent in 2025 and 2.0 per cent in 2026. Economic growth is expected to pick up to 0.9 per cent in 2024, 1.4 per cent in 2025 and 1.6 per cent in 2026.

We are determined to ensure that inflation returns to our two per cent medium-term target in a timely manner. We will keep policy rates sufficiently restrictive for as long as necessary to achieve this aim. We will continue to follow a data-dependent and meeting-by-meeting approach to determining the appropriate level and duration of restriction. In particular, our interest rate decisions will be based on our assessment of the inflation outlook in light of the incoming economic and financial data, the dynamics of underlying inflation and the strength of monetary policy transmission. We are not pre-committing to a particular rate path.

The Governing Council today also confirmed that it will reduce the Eurosystem’s holdings of securities under the pandemic emergency purchase programme (PEPP) by €7.5 billion per month on average over the second half of the year. The modalities for reducing the PEPP holdings will be broadly in line with those followed under the asset purchase programme (APP).

The decisions taken today are set out in a press release available on our website.

I will now outline in more detail how we see the economy and inflation developing and will then explain our assessment of financial and monetary conditions.

Economic activity

After five quarters of stagnation, the euro area economy grew by 0.3 per cent over the first quarter of 2024. The services sector is expanding, and manufacturing is showing signs of stabilisation at low levels. We expect the economy to continue to recover as higher wages and improved terms of trade push up real incomes. Stronger exports should also support growth over the coming quarters, as global demand for goods and services rises. Finally, monetary policy should exert less of a drag on demand over time.

Employment rose by 0.3 per cent in the first quarter of this year, with around 500,000 new jobs created, and surveys point to continued job growth in the near term. The unemployment rate edged down to 6.4 per cent in April, its lowest level since the start of the euro. Companies are still posting many job vacancies, though slightly fewer than before.

National fiscal and structural policies should aim at making the economy more productive and competitive, which would help to raise potential growth and reduce price pressures in the medium term. An effective, speedy and full implementation of the Next Generation EU programme, progress towards capital markets union and the completion of banking union, and a strengthening of the Single Market would help foster innovation and increase investment in the green and digital transitions. Implementing the EU’s revised economic governance framework fully and without delay will help governments bring down budget deficits and debt ratios on a sustained basis.

Inflation

Annual inflation rose to 2.6 per cent in May, from 2.4 per cent in April, according to Eurostat’s flash estimate. Food price inflation declined to 2.6 per cent. Energy price inflation increased to 0.3 per cent, after recording negative annual rates for a year. Goods price inflation continued to decrease in May, to 0.8 per cent. By contrast, services price inflation rose markedly, to 4.1 per cent from 3.7 per cent in April.

Most measures of underlying inflation declined further in April, the last month for which data are available, confirming the picture of gradually diminishing price pressures. However, domestic inflation remains high. Wages are still rising at an elevated pace, making up for the past inflation surge. Owing to the staggered nature of the wage adjustment process and the important role of one-off payments, labour costs will likely fluctuate over the near term, as seen in the pick-up in negotiated wages in the first quarter. At the same time, forward-looking indicators signal that wage growth will moderate over the course of the year. Profits are absorbing part of the pronounced rise in unit labour costs, which reduces its inflationary effects.

Inflation is expected to fluctuate around current levels for the rest of the year, including due to energy-related base effects. It is then expected to decline towards our target over the second half of next year, owing to weaker growth in labour costs, the unfolding effects of our restrictive monetary policy, and the fading impact of the energy crisis and the pandemic. Measures of longer-term inflation expectations have remained broadly stable, with most standing at around 2 per cent.

Risk assessment

The risks to economic growth are balanced in the near term but remain tilted to the downside over the medium term. A weaker world economy or an escalation in trade tensions between major economies would weigh on euro area growth. Russia’s unjustified war against Ukraine and the tragic conflict in the Middle East are major sources of geopolitical risk. This may result in firms and households becoming less confident about the future and global trade being disrupted. Growth could also be lower if the effects of monetary policy turn out stronger than expected. Growth could be higher if inflation comes down more quickly than expected and rising confidence and real incomes mean that spending increases by more than anticipated, or if the world economy grows more strongly than expected.

Inflation could turn out higher than anticipated if wages or profits increase by more than expected. Upside risks to inflation also stem from the heightened geopolitical tensions, which could push energy prices and freight costs higher in the near term and disrupt global trade. Moreover, extreme weather events, and the unfolding climate crisis more broadly, could drive up food prices. By contrast, inflation may surprise on the downside if monetary policy dampens demand more than expected, or if the economic environment in the rest of the world worsens unexpectedly.

Financial and monetary conditions

Market interest rates have risen since our April meeting. Financing costs have plateaued at restrictive levels as our past policy rate increases have worked their way through the financial system. The average interest rates on new loans to firms and on new mortgages were unchanged in April, at 5.2 per cent and 3.8 per cent respectively.

Credit dynamics remain weak. Bank lending to firms grew at an annual rate of 0.3 per cent in April, down slightly from the previous month. Loans to households continued to grow at 0.2 per cent on an annual basis. The annual growth in broad money – as measured by M3 – rose to 1.3 per cent in April, from 0.9 per cent in March.

In line with our monetary policy strategy, the Governing Council thoroughly assessed the links between monetary policy and financial stability. Euro area banks remain resilient. The improving economic outlook has fostered financial stability, but heightened geopolitical risks cloud the horizon. An unexpected tightening of global financing conditions could prompt a repricing of financial and non-financial assets, with negative effects on the wider economy. Macroprudential policy remains the first line of defence against the build-up of financial vulnerabilities. The measures that are currently in place or will soon take effect are helping to keep the financial system resilient.

Conclusion

The Governing Council today decided to lower the three key ECB interest rates by 25 basis points. We are determined to ensure that inflation returns to our two per cent medium-term target in a timely manner. We will keep policy rates sufficiently restrictive for as long as necessary to achieve this aim. We will continue to follow a data-dependent and meeting-by-meeting approach to determining the appropriate level and duration of restriction. In particular, our interest rate decisions will be based on our assessment of the inflation outlook in light of the incoming economic and financial data, the dynamics of underlying inflation and the strength of monetary policy transmission. We are not pre-committing to a particular rate path.

In any case, we stand ready to adjust all of our instruments within our mandate to ensure that inflation returns to our medium-term target and to preserve the smooth functioning of monetary policy transmission.

We are now ready to take your questions.

* * *

Cutting rates at the same time as hiking the inflation forecast needs perhaps a little bit more explanation and raises also the question whether you perhaps pre-committed yourself too early to that cut. The second one is that the market currently is expecting some 65 basis points in cuts during the course of this year. Is the market right or about right?

Let me take this opportunity to give you bit of an opening answer and tell you what we did this morning and what happened as a preamble to this morning’s decision. But let me first tell you that we started our meeting this morning by paying tribute to the many men and women who sacrificed their lives on the beach of Normandy today, which is the 80th anniversary of D-Day. And we paid tribute to those sacrifices and those of many others because it enabled us to build what we have built, to disagree in a very civilised way and to have very harmonious and congenial decisions amongst 20 different nationals representing their respective national central banks amongst our Governing Council[1]. And it was perfectly appropriate and fitting to do so. Then we decided to cut, and we did so because overall our confidence in the path ahead, because we have to be forward-looking, has been increasing over the last months. So let me explain to you why our confidence has increased in the path ahead. And I will take you back a little bit because this is, after all, the first time in many years that we make that kind of decision. And these things do not happen in a vacuum. So I’ll take you back a little bit to our monetary policy cycle, to remind you that we have had two successive phases and we have made that decision. So the first phase, as you will remember, was a phase of very robust and rapid tightening. We tightened by 450 basis points between July 2022 and September 2023. Then we moved into a phase of holding from September 2023 up until today. And if we look back at those phases, during each of those phases we divided inflation by half. So if you look at the peak of inflation, in October 2022, we were at 10.6% – double-digit inflation on average. Now fast forward to September 2023, we were at 5.2%. Fast forward to today, we are at 2.6%. So at each and every step of the way, when we reassess and decided to move in a different direction, we had halved inflation. I think the second element that we took very much into account was the reliability and the strength of our projections. And there is one particular line of projections which to many of us was relevant. If you look at Q4 2025 projections – you look at September, you look at December, you look at March, you look at June – there’s a variation between those projections of 0.10 percentage points. So it’s either 2 or 1.9 or 2 or 1.9 or 2. And it’s on the basis of this reliability and solidity and robustness of those projections that we have made that decision to actually cut. I’m sure that you will be asking “What about next time?” and I will invariably tell you the same thing, which is what is included in the monetary policy statement. We shall be data-dependent and we shall decide meeting by meeting. But to say that is probably not enough. And how we collect data matters, but what is also more important is how we analyse the data. And I’m not only specifically pointing at one set of data, but all the data that we get. We’re looking at it under the prism of our three criteria. You will have noticed that I have repeated three times, I think, in this monetary policy statement the three criteria, which are the inflation outlook on the basis of the financial and economic data that we collect. It’s the underlying inflation, and it’s the transmission of monetary policy. So it’s under the prism of these three criteria that we analyse all the data that we have available. And we need to have those data. We need to have enough of those data to make a relevant and appropriate analysis that took us this time around to this decision. On your second question, markets do what markets have to do, and we do what we have to do.

You just mentioned that you need enough data to take your decisions, and back in March you said that you will know a little more by April and a lot more by June. Are we in a similar situation where only a little more will be known by the next meeting and a lot more by the one after that? And more broadly on this topic, some argue that some of your meetings coincide with the release of key indicators and therefore that those policy meetings are more important. What do you think of this view? Do you share it?

You are correct that there is no perfect synchronization between our meetings and our decisions and the publication of particular data. I’m thinking of one particular data that will come for publication tomorrow, which is the compensation per employee (CPE) for Q1, which obviously is relevant because we look very carefully at wages from all possible angles of analysis and CPE is a relevant point. It’s not the only one. Wages are an important field of data that we need to analyse, but CPE is one of them and it’s only being published tomorrow. So what we try to do, just to take you a little bit behind the scenes, is we collect as much data as are available. And at the moment we have about 15 countries or so and a very large portion of the euro area economy. And we calculate what is the likelihood of that number to better assess and test our resolve. That’s what we have to do, and there is no perfect synchronization between the dates of publication, which are set, and the dates of our monetary policy meetings, which are also set. And they don’t coincide necessarily all the time. You also asked what kind of data we are talking about. First of all, it is data. Second, it is enough data so that the analysis that we conduct under the three criteria that I have mentioned can actually be relevant. So I’m not going to tell you today, nor at any point in time until much later on in the summer, whether we do this now or we do something else at another point in time. The only thing I’m telling you is that we need sufficient data, and data comes in gradually over the course of time. We need sufficient data to actually corroborate the view that we have that the disinflationary path is being confirmed and warrants further decisions.

You mentioned the different phases the ECB went through with the holding phase recently. With the cut today, are we entering the dialling-back phase you mentioned in your March speech at the ECB Watchers Conference? Should we expect a series of rate cuts or could it also be a case that this one is a one and done? My second question: your chief economist recently said that interest rates need to remain restrictive this year but that the ECB wants to remove the top level of restriction. What does that mean? How much can the ECB cut interest rates before they are no longer sufficiently restrictive?

First of all, thank you for reading my speech or for having been in the room. That was the Watchers speech, in which in a sort of prospective but also vaguely academic way I tentatively analysed the phases that we had gone through and anticipated what could come next. Are we today moving into a dialling-back phase? I wouldn’t volunteer that. Because, as I said, we are making a decision on the basis of the confidence that we have that we are on a path. But at each and every point in time in the course of the next few months, we will need data and more data and analysis of those data to constantly confirm that we are on this disinflationary path. We know the destination. We know the direction that we are taking. We know the methodology that we will apply. We know the volume of multiple data that we should be receiving, and that will accumulate and corroborate hopefully. But I cannot confirm that it is the dialling-back process that is underway. There’s a strong likelihood, but it will be data-dependent and what is very uncertain is the speed at which we travel and the time that it will take. Again, this will be determined by the data that we receive. You asked me about the restrictiveness. We are currently restrictive, even after this 25 basis point cut, as you well know. And we are today more restrictive in real interest rate terms than we were back in September. So what we’re doing here, as indicated by our chief economist Philip Lane, is removing a degree of restriction. We are moderating the level of restriction that applies. That’s exactly what we are doing at the moment. How long will that take? As I said, I cannot tell you now. At what speed will it happen? I cannot tell you now either. It will be delivered by the data. I’m sure that you will hear some of my excellent colleagues take their view. It will take such time, or it will move at such speed. I would caution against any such conclusion for one simple reason. We know the path we are on, but we also know that there will be other bumps on the road. I said last time when we were together that we were travelling that journey on a road that was downward towards the 2%, but that there would be bumps on the road. There are bumps that we can more or less predict and that we can anticipate. Base effects are a case in point. But there are bumps on the road that can come as a surprise. There are bumps on the road that we can anticipate, but the magnitude of which we are not totally confident about. Wages is another case in point. Depending on which country you look at or depending on what collective agreement you look at, there can be a massive amount of catching up. There could be a front-loaded agreement to increase wages and then it fades away. So all these things have idiosyncratic characteristics that will actually either increase, reduce or deliver the same level of bumps that that we are considering. But we know it’s going to be a bumpy road. Let’s face it, the next few months will continue to be bumpy. We know that.

Firstly, you talked about the importance of the data and you had stressed before this meeting the importance of the first quarter data and particularly the wage data and that you’d hope to see a moderation there. You didn’t see a moderation. You saw an acceleration in the wage data back to almost a record high. So can you explain why what you saw was still enough to allow you to cut? And secondly, you’ve predicted that there will be a moderation in wages in the eurozone later this year. Do you need to see that moderation actually happen before you can cut again?

Again, what we wanted before making that decision was collectively to increase our confidence level that the path ahead was on its disinflationary rhythm that we needed in order to make our decision. And to do that we looked back at the last time we decided to hike, which was in September, and we assessed the journey from September 2023 up until now. And as I just said in the previous answer, there are bumps on this road that we are travelling with more confidence that the disinflationary path is actually materialising. We will be looking at multiple data, not only wages. But you’re quite right to take me back to wages, because wages matter enormously in a tight labour market when it comes to services. And we know that services are an important element of the items in the index, which have been rising. The last service, our number that we had was 3.7. That was back in April. It went up to 4.1 in May after a series of fours in March, February and January before that. And what’s at the root of this increase in service prices is predominantly wages. So what happened to wages in the last few months? First of all, there has been divergence between countries. So we really looked under the bonnet of wages and we looked under the bonnet of countries because some of the decisions that were made were country-specific. I’ll take one example: Germany. In Germany, most of those collective agreements are negotiated every two to three years. And to give you a more specific example, a public service agreement actually happened in 2024 and has now compensated for the lost purchasing power since 2021, which is when the last agreement was reached in the public service. So you can imagine that an agreement that is cut in 2024 and that covers [lost purchasing power in] 2021, 2022 and 2023 is obviously going to be very sizeable, and it was – in the 12% range. We have exactly the same story for the retail sector, which is quite significant, where again an agreement has been reached now, which is an ovation compared with three years ago. Then we have to analyse what’s underneath. There is catching up and frontloading. Is it also accounting for future years? It’s not too clear in the public service, but it’s very clear in the retail sector agreement. So that leads us to assume that wages will continue to remain elevated. If you look at negotiated wages, in the first quarter they were at 4.7%. If you look at compensation per employee based on what we can calculate on the basis of 15 countries, it was 4.7%. Compared with 4.5% in Q4 [2023] for negotiated wages in the fourth quarter, 4.7% is the same stabilisation on the compensation per employee in the fourth quarter. So we have elevated levels, tentative stabilisation and then we look at our third indicator, which is the wage tracker, which includes seven euro area countries, including the largest ones. So we cover a very large chunk of European economic activity and labour markets. And what that wage tracker tells us is that while the stock of agreements and various accords that are recorded by the wage tracker is still elevated, when we look at the flow [since last year] – what is coming in now – we are seeing a decline in wage growth. Wages are not an easy matter, because they are peculiar as they include lots and lots of elements. You have catching up, you have social security contributions, you have what we call wage drift, which includes a lot of very specific items, including overtime, including differential between low-paid and high-paid employees and all the rest of it. So we try to really combine and confront all this data and all this information to analyse it. And that leads to the conclusion that while still elevated – no question about that – we are seeing those wages on a declining path. And that will particularly be the case in 2025 because the 12% decided in 2024 are not going to be producing the same impact in 2025. And that is, I think, even comforted by the fact that this particular projection exercise is checked and cross-checked and produced jointly by the staff of the ECB and the staff of the national central banks, which really have their fingers on the pulse of those collective agreements and compensation per employees. The second part of your question was how long it will take or how much more you see. We are going to look at data as they come in. On wages and profits, it’s not a monthly exercise. It comes at a different interval. And we will have to test our assumption of declining wages towards the end of 2024 and seriously less elevated wages in 2025 in the course of the next few weeks and months.

Following up on a previous question, given that you will need data and more data, do you think that projection round meetings of the Governing Council could be more suitable for interest rate decisions given that you will have also forecasts available? The second question is: how divided is the Governing Council over the future path of interest rates? A third one would be if it was a unanimous decision today?

You can’t go more than two, but OK, I’ll take the three. I’ll start with the third one. Was it a unanimous decision? Yes, but for one governor. So I’ll leave it to your sagacity to identify who it is. Were we divided as far as the path ahead is concerned, we were all absolutely united to agree that our path would be data-dependent, that we would decide meeting by meeting and there was absolutely no dissent on that front. We also confirmed that our criteria, the three that I have mentioned, inflation outlook, underlying inflation, strength of monetary policy transmission, will continue to drive our analysis of data going forward. Regarding your first question, first of all, those are not our projections. Those are the projections of staff. And it’s obvious that projections produced by staff on a regular basis are very informative, go deep into the data that we receive, analyse at length, produce scenarios, analysis, sensitivity analysis, and that this is very helpful for us to make decisions. But that doesn’t mean to say, and I would not say that now, that we would only decide at the time of projection meetings. Because we have to be data-dependent at all times. But obviously, we have more data when we have projection meetings.

Some months ago you were standing at this location promising the people in the eurozone that the Governing Council is determined to break the neck of inflation. Would you say that the neck has been broken? One could have some doubts seeing the current data and also your projections. What is your view on that? And connected with this, we have heard a lot of criticism already before this session and a lot of doubt as to whether this rate cut is really at the right point, because some people are doubting that inflation indeed is on the right track. We have now started the voting for the European Parliament and, as you know, there’s a lot of criticism of European institutions. Is it really the right point in time to take these decisions when some people may now get the impression that the ECB doesn’t take the combat of inflation seriously enough anymore?

I can assure you that we take the fight against inflation extremely seriously. If there is one thing that I have learned in this job is that we have to be persistent, we have to be determined, we have to be data-dependent, but we cannot give up on the objective. And our objective is to tame inflation and to bring inflation back to 2% in the medium term. So let there be no doubt about our determination to tame inflation and to restore price stability. And I will mention three numbers for you, because I think that in my sleepless nights I try to have that in the back of my mind. And there’s that little voice that says, “Carry on, carry on”. In October 2022 inflation on average in the euro area was 10.6%. In September 2023, less than a year later, inflation was 5.2%. That was the reading of August, because we made the decision in September. Today it is 2.6%. Each and every step of the way we divided inflation by two. I don’t want to divide the next inflation by two, because if we divide 2.6 by two, we have 1.3. Our commitment is 2%. We don’t want to go there, but as is very clearly stated in the monetary policy statement, we are moderating our restrictive stance. It is still restrictive. And we will continue to be restrictive as long as necessary to bring inflation to 2% in a timely manner. Have no doubt about that.

What do you think about the level of concentration in the Spanish banks and what could happen with this if BBVA is successful in its offer for Sabadell? Could it be a problem for competition or maybe for the financial stability?

Vice-President Luis de Guindos: I think that we have been crystal clear with respect to them. We do not elaborate or comment on transactions and deals that have not been finalised yet. Our party line has been quite clear. We will make an assessment about any kind of transaction that implies mergers and the purchase of stakes in banks, but this assessment will be based on prudential and solvency issues. That’s what I can say now. And we will see the outcome at the end.

In the moment that we are right now, can you be more clear in your assumption of where the neutral rate is currently? Second, was the governor that wasn’t on board with the cut looking for a bigger cut or an unchanged rate cut and keeping it on hold? And what was the argument, if you can tell us?

The answer to that question is no, because that’s the privacy of the deliberations to the extent that they relate to one particular person. But I’m sure you will identify that person quickly and will be able to get that information from him. More seriously, on the neutral rate, you know that I have refrained systematically from erring towards a particular number or identifying a neutral rate or a range around the neutral rate. I will simply say this: if it has increased compared with where it was before the coronavirus (COVID-19), we also know that we are far away from the neutral rate now. And by moving from 4% to 3.75% on the DFR, we are not close to the neutral rate. So we still have a way to go.

I’m from Croatia, the latest member of the eurozone. We still had the highest rate of inflation in May of 4.3%, followed by Belgium in second, but on the other side we had the biggest growth in the eurozone in the last quarter of 3.9%. Are we at risk because of this decision today? And what do you expect? It’s hard to really make a decision that affects all of these countries in the eurozone and to expect inflation to really go down.

First of all, welcome to this circle, and we’re very happy that Croatia has joined and has extended the circle to 20. Your question is similar to the ones that we had when some of the Baltic States in particular were cruising at much higher inflation rates than the average in the euro area. And it’s the whole issue of divergences that we have amongst ourselves because we have different fundamentals, because we have different heritage, because of different structural rigidities as well. From an ECB standpoint, we have to look at euro area data and we cannot go down into the specificities. We have to be mindful of the divergences and we do publish – we will be publishing soon actually – a convergence report that will identify these divergences and how close countries are getting. We very much believe that inflation will come down and we will continue this disinflationary process and that that will apply to all Member States. But again, the pace and consistency between countries is always going to be an issue. I hope it’s not too big an issue. And obviously having growth and strong demand has its disadvantages as well as benefits.

The French President, Emmanuel Macron, has proposed to extend the mandate of the ECB to economic growth and climate protection. What’s your view on that? And I would be curious on your view also on the proposal to publish a dot plot from Isabel Schnabel. Would you support this idea or not?

At the ECB we have a very clear mandate, and that mandate is enshrined in the Treaty and that mandate is a focus on delivering price stability. We believe that that price stability mandate provides solid guideposts and boundaries for our monetary policy strategy. We don’t see a need nor do we have the capacity or the competence to change that. I would also observe that providing price stability and giving predictability to sustainable investment is certainly one of the various contributions that we can make in relation to the fight against climate change. We have different sets of actions, from risk management to better modelling and including climate change risks and mitigation measures in our work. But providing price stability is certainly a good way to tell those investors in sustainable projects you have price stability and the ECB will be here to guarantee that prices are stable. There’s nothing like waves of inflation to discourage investments that require a long-term perspective and a later return on investment. The dot plot mechanism is an interesting concept, and I think I would leave it at that.

Monetary policy statement (with Q&A) (2024)

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