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PIMCO’s Balls questions ECB credibility over inflation

PIMCO’s Balls questions ECB credibility over inflation

The European Central Bank has left itself open to questions over its credibility after allowing inflation to fall to ‘dangerously’ low levels, PIMCO’s Andrew Balls has said.

In a commentary piece, the Citywire AAA-rated manager of the PIMCO GIS Euro Bond fund, criticised ECB action in the face of a real deflationary threat.

Balls, who has been a regular commentator on ECB President Mario Draghi's actions in the past, said the ECB cannot realistically persist with its stated goal of a 2% inflation target in the current environment.

‘In the year to October, eurozone headline inflation came in at 0.4 per cent. In December, the ECB is going to have to revise down its inflation forecasts again – something that has become a quarterly ritual.’

‘It will be interesting to see if the ECB has enough confidence to forecast inflation at 2% in 2017, when it adds the third year to its forecast,’ he added.

The European bond manager, who is also CIO of global fixed income at the US asset manager, said the current state of affairs demands further policy efforts from the ECB, as he reiterated his concerns over looming deflation.

‘This is not just a matter of adjustments needed in peripheral countries: inflation is dangerously low in the core, too. Nor is it just a matter of lower energy prices. Core inflation, excluding food and energy, was just 0.7% in the year to October. ‘

‘The ECB is already engaged in QE via its covered bond purchases and the planned purchases of asset-backed securities. But these are likely to be small programmes, and the same would apply if the ECB bought corporate credit.’

Balls said the most practical way for the ECB to increase its impact would be through buying government bonds, as the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England have done. However, he stressed inflation must remain a core concern.

‘QE would certainly be more powerful if combined with fiscal expansion, where possible. And structural reform is needed to promote higher potential growth rates in the medium term to ensure long-term eurozone stability.’

‘These are important matters. But the ECB consists of unelected officials with a mandate based on inflation. It should act in the area it controls.’

Overall, Balls said he expected continued stability in the eurozone over the next 12 months and name-checked Spain and Italy as particularly attractive sources of credit risk in the near-to-mid-term.

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