UPDATE 1-German court says won't rule this year on ECB bond-buying

Thu Nov 21, 2013 10:18am EST

Related Topics

* Court ruling on OMT had initially been expected in 2013

* Complexity of case, coalition talks may have delayed ruling

* Court not expected to derail bond-buying programme

By Norbert Demuth

KARLSRUHE, Germany, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Germany's Constitutional Court will not rule this year, as originally expected, on a complaint against the European Central Bank (ECB) bond-buying programme that is widely credited with stabilising the euro zone, a court spokesman said on Thursday.

The court is considering whether the ECB's plans to buy "unlimited" amounts of bonds from stricken euro zone states, announced last year at the height of the bloc's debt crisis, is really a vehicle for funding member states through the back door. That could violate German law.

"The decision in the ESM/ECB case will no longer be announced this year," said the spokesman, adding the court was still trying to make a decision as quickly as possible.

He said no further details were available.

The Karlsruhe-based court has never given a date for the ruling, eagerly awaited by financial markets, but it had initially been expected to come this year.

In recent weeks doubts about the timing surfaced, in part due to the complexity of the case but also because of lengthy talks on forming a coalition government in Germany.

Some legal experts believe the court could ultimately decide to refer the case to the European Court of Justice.

The court held a two-day hearing in June after more than 35,000 Germans filed complaints against the ECB's bond-buying instrument, known as Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT).

The plaintiffs argue that the OMT programme violates the bank's mandate of achieving price stability and amounts to illegal back-door financing of governments.

Bundesbank Chief Jens Weidmann was one of the most outspoken opponents of the plan when it was first announced and testified against it at the June hearing.

Karlsruhe cannot revoke the ECB scheme but in considering whether it violates the German parliament's right to control the budget, it could block the country's participation or challenge certain aspects of the plan, such as its "unlimited" nature.

This could effectively derail the programme, which has worked largely by giving investors the confidence to buy bonds, safe in the knowledge the ECB would intervene on the secondary market if any government were at serious risk of defaulting.

In earlier rulings the court has approved euro zone bailout schemes while insisting the Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, be consulted more fully.

Most analysts think it is unlikely to derail OMT altogether, a step which could rekindle the crisis.

"We expect the court to express its concerns about some aspects of the OMT, but no outright rejection of the programme or other constraints that would dilute the effectiveness of the OMT in a meaningful way," said Dirk Schumacher of Goldman Sachs in a research note this week.

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