The Euro symbol outside the headquarters of the European Central Bank Hannelore Foerster/Getty Images

Monetary-Policy Normalization in Europe in 2018

As the European Central Bank pursues monetary-policy normalization in 2018, it should proceed with caution. It will need to balance mounting pressure from Germany for faster normalization with a realistic assessment of the durability and breadth of the unfolding recovery.

BUENOS AIRES – When the European Central Bank’s Governing Council met on December 14, there was little to surprise financial markets, because no policy changes could be gleaned from public remarks. The previous meeting, in late October, had already set the stage for the normalization of monetary policy, with the announcement that the ECB would halve its monthly asset purchases, from €60 billion ($71 billion) to €30 billion, beginning in January 2018.

The motivation behind normalization does not appear to be the eurozone’s inflation performance, which continues to undershoot the target of roughly 2% by an uncomfortable margin. Inflation expectations, while inching up recently, also appear anchored well below target, despite recent soaring confidence readings. And the ECB’s own forecast suggests that it does not anticipate that price growth will breach 2% anytime soon.

What about the output gap? In step with the US Federal Reserve, the ECB nudged its growth forecasts higher. In that setting, R-star (the natural rate of interest) may be perceived as drifting up, in line with output moving closer to potential across a broad swath of eurozone economies.

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