European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde said the first increase in interest rates in more than a decade may come in July but downplayed the idea of a half-point move amid concerns about economic expansion.
With a growing contingent on the Governing Council honing in on the summer for liftoff, Lagarde told Dutch television that a hike may be delivered “weeks” after net bond-buying ends early next quarter — in line with ECB guidance.
“We are going to follow the path of stopping net asset purchases,” she said. “Then, sometime after that — which could be a few weeks — hike interest rates.”
ECB officials have grown increasingly alarmed about record inflation, opting to focus on the dangers of runaway prices over fears about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and renewed supply-chain woes derailing the pandemic rebound.
In a sign of the inflation concerns, the Netherlands’ Klaas Knot this week became the first Governing Council member to float the idea of a 50 basis-point move at the ECB’s July meeting, though only if data worsen.
Asked about a possible increase of that size, Lagarde said “it’s not something that I can tell you at this point in time,” stressing that she shares “the same direction of travel” with Knot but also that economic growth mustn’t be risked.
“We need to make sure that this is going gradually enough so that we don’t put the break on this car that is moving,” she said. “We have to lift the accelerator for sure to slow inflation but we cannot be breaking any speed.”
With inflation almost four times the 2% target and the US Federal Reserve already delivering a bigger-than-usual hike in April, critics have accused the ECB — whose deposit rate is currently -0.5% — of moving too slowly. Lagarde disagreed.
“I cannot for the moment reduce the price paid for a loaf of bread because the interest rate has nothing to do with that at the moment,” she said.
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