WRAPUP 3-ECB's Praet warns of deflationary pressures in euro zone
* Praet warns of deflationary euro zone environment
* But Nowotny sees no deflation risk
* Draghi says ECB rates low because economy is weak
* Schaeuble warns loose ECB policy risks slowing reforms (Adds Schaeuble)
PARIS/FRANKFURT, Nov 22 (Reuters) - The European Central Bank's chief economist said on Friday the euro zone faces deflationary pressures, and the bank's president stressed that interest rates must remain low "because the economy is weak".
With euro zone inflation running at 0.7 percent, well below its target of just under 2 percent, a raft of ECB speakers this week have said the bank is open to taking fresh measures to support the economy.
Vice-President Vitor Constancio said on Tuesday "everything is possible" and both he and economics chief Peter Praet have said asset buying - or quantitative easing (QE) - is an option.
But the ECB's conservative minority, which voted against this month's surprise cut in interest rates and are led by its German members, still seem dead set against any such move.
Germany's finance minister also warned on Friday that the ECB's loose monetary policy risked giving some euro zone governments an incentive to slow their reforms.
"Monetary policy may not replace the necessity of reducing deficits, fiscal discipline," he added at the European Banking Congress in Frankfurt.
President Mario Draghi has taken a measured line, on Thursday pouring cold water on the idea the bank was actively considering moving deposit rates into negative territory and on Friday stressing the need to keep interest rates low.
"I understand the concerns about a prolonged period of low returns on savings. But it is important to understand that interest rates are low because the economy is weak," Draghi told the Banking Congress in Frankfurt.
"If we raised rates, we would further depress the economy, people would lose their jobs, and then their savings would be lower for longer."
Praet, who sits on the ECB's six-strong Executive Board, said the financial crisis had saddled the euro zone with a debt burden unique in Europe's post-war history because it has created a more deflationary environment.
"This is a very different context for the correction of expectations (about income), which is more of a debt overhang," he told a conference at the Bank of France.
"It has more signs of a balance-sheet recession, which is a priori more of a deflationary environment than what we had in the 1960s."
Another ECB policymaker, Austria's Ewald Nowotny, told reporters in Paris the euro zone was not in deflation, adding: "I do not see a perspective of deflation."
Nowotny is known to have sided with the ECB's hawks in the past and all of this week's comments still added up for economists to a solid divide between the factions.
"They stand ready to act as the November cut proves but they don't yet see a genuine risk of deflation which demands throwing the kitchen sink (at the problem)," said RBS economist Richard Barwell. "A lot of the chatter is just reminding markets that they still have a sink to throw if they need to."
The economic case for easing ECB policy further was not aided by an above-forecast Ifo sentiment survey out of Germany - one of the month's most watched indicators.
The Ifo survey suggested the euro zone's largest economy continues to recover slowly.
The OECD threw its weight behind the QE idea this week but, in a telling sign of the fierce resistance such an option would face from ECB hawks, Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann said printing money is not the way out of the euro zone crisis.
Weidmann's comments reflect the long-standing concern in Germany with money-printing and its inflationary risks.
Schaeuble, who said on Thursday the ECB should not offer "false monetary stimulus", followed up on Friday by adding: "There is the danger that this monetary policy, in addition to all good arguments, is understood in some European countries as a false incentive, not to deploy necessary reforms."
Before QE, the ECB is more likely to conduct another long-term liquidity injection, or LTRO, like the operations which funnelled over one trillion euros in 3-year loans to banks in late 2011 and early 2012 at an interest rate tied to its main refinancing rate. A Reuters poll of money market traders pointed to that happening in the first quarter.
Even an LTRO could meet resistance from some Council members. Weidmann said on Thursday the ECB must ensure its lending operations do not become too generous.
"Given the sharp reaction in the German media after the rate cut and the firm opposition to any further step in the central European caucus in the ECB, I think Draghi will not force more right now," said Berenberg bank's Christian Schulz. (Additional reporting by Leigh Thomas; writing by Paul Carrel; editing by Patrick Graham/Ruth Pitchford)
- Exclusive: Radar data suggests missing Malaysia plane flown deliberately toward Andamans - sources
- Investigators focus on foul play behind missing plane: sources |
- Search for Malaysian plane may extend to Indian Ocean - U.S |
- Russia blocks internet sites of Putin critics
- Tire blows out on passenger jet taking off from Philadelphia airport