Difference in euro zone loan costs grows despite record-low ECB rate

FRANKFURT Wed Jan 8, 2014 7:19am EST

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FRANKFURT Jan 8 (Reuters) - The difference in corporate loan costs around the euro zone grew in November, suggesting the European Central Bank's record low interest rates are still not filtering through to all corners of the currency bloc evenly.

Funding costs for euro zone companies began to diverge as the financial crisis laid bare country-specific risks, prompting investors to demand premiums in some member states.

More than five years on, that divergence persists despite the extraordinary measures implemented by the ECB.

The central bank ends its latest meeting on Thursday and is widely expected to keep all monetary policy settings on hold.

The ECB's measure of country-by-country variation of large corporate loan interest rates went up in November, although it held slightly below its peak reached earlier last year, ECB data showed on Wednesday.

The data showed that companies in Portugal had to pay 5.26 percent interest on new loans larger than 1 million euros in November compared with 5.01 percent in October. In Belgium, companies paid just 2.02 percent.

The ECB cut its main refinancing rate to a record low of 0.25 percent in November and is expected to keep it there until mid-2015, a Reuters poll showed.

But it may discuss other options to enhance the transmission of its interest rates when it meets on Thursday, after data last week showed that lending to euro zone companies contracted at the fastest pace on record in November.

ECB President Mario Draghi has commented on the problem before, telling a European parliament committee in mid-December: "In this crisis, interest rate cuts have been transmitted more slowly and unevenly across euro area countries due to the fragmentation of financial markets.

"To address this problem, we adopted in recent years a series of non-standard measures. The purpose of these was - and remains - a more effective transmission of the ECB's interest rate cuts, so that our monetary policy can reach companies and households throughout the euro area." (Reporting by Eva Taylor; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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