October 11, 2018 / 11:32 AM / 12 days ago

ECB minutes highlight fears for growth from trade war

FRANKFURT, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Global trade tensions could slow euro zone growth further, and European Central Bank policymakers debated last month whether to downgrade their risk assessment, minutes of their September meeting showed on Thursday.

But policymakers ultimately decided that the domestic economy was showing considerable resilience, so risks to growth remained balanced, even if some argued that the factors behind the recent slowdown may not be temporary, the ECB said in the accounts of the Sept 13 meeting.

The ECB kept policy unchanged as expected last month, staying on track to wrap up a 2.6 trillion-euro ($3 trillion)bond purchases scheme this year and raise interest rates next autumn, even as it warned that risks from protectionism were growing.

“A remark was made that some of the factors behind the (downward growth) revisions might not be entirely of a transitory nature,” the minutes showed. “It was also argued that there could be larger spillovers from weaker external demand to domestic demand.”

Still, while some policymakers argued that the case could be made for downgrading the risk assessment, there was agreement that the underlying strength of the economy would mitigate the downside risks to activity.

Rate setters also concluded that the actual impact of trade tensions has been limited so far, even if there could still be an impact over time.

“High-frequency indicators had stabilised and remained at elevated levels, underlining the overall robustness of economic activity,” chief economist Peter Praet told policymakers, according to the minutes.

With years of unprecedented stimulus are finally lifting inflation and the ECB has been dialling back support, but only by the smallest of increments, fearing that bigger moves risked unravelling its work.

While the ECB has not explicitly pledged any rate hikes, policymakers, including Praet, have argued that they were comfortable with market expectation for a small increase in the fourth quarter of 2019, followed by only small and infrequent moves.

Policymakers also concluded that domestic cost pressures continued to build and broaden, indicating that inflation would rise, moving back towards the bank’s target of almost 2 percent after undershooting it for over five years.

A slowdown in growth and the rising threat of protectionism has also been adding to the ECB’s caution. Some policymakers have warned that external risks, ranging from trade tensions to an emerging market shakeout and Brexit, could derail global growth.

Indeed, earlier this week the International Monetary Fund cut its global economic growth forecast for this year and next, saying that the U.S.-China trade war was taking a toll and emerging markets were struggling with tighter liquidity and capital outflows. ($1 = 0.8660 euros) (Reporting by Balazs Koranyi, editing by Larry King)

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