As euro zone grows, three ECB rate setters mull stimulus cut

LJUBLJANA/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - With the euro zone’s economy finally growing, the time for the European Central Bank to reduce its monetary stimulus may be nearing, speeches by three ECB policymakers suggested on Thursday.

Bostjan Jazbec, Slovenia's central bank governor, speaks during an interview in Ljubljana December 13, 2013. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic/File photo

After buying more than 2 trillion euros ($2.38 trillion)worth of bonds since 2015, the ECB is expected to announce next month it will slow the pace of its purchases, since economic growth is accelerating and inflation is stable, albeit sluggish.

One of the most vocal critic of the bond buys, Bundesbank head Jens Weidmann, said the situation called for “easing up on the accelerator” of monetary stimulus as the threat of a sustained fall in prices was now gone.

“We’re not talking about a complete stop in monetary policy, but rather of easing up on the accelerator,” Germany’s central bank governor said in at an event in Frankfurt.

“The ECB Governing Council must be careful not to miss the right time for normalizing policy.”

Speaking earlier in Ljubljana, Belgian governor Jan Smets, who also sits on the ECB’s Governor Council, said inflation seemed to have bottomed out.

His Slovenian colleague Bostjan Jazbec also highlighted the euro zone’s positive economic performance and said a decision on the future of stimulus was now inevitable.

But he added policymakers were waiting for more economic data to confirm that inflation was indeed heading toward its mandated target of almost 2 percent.

“We need more data and more confirmation that what we are doing is in line with fulfilling our mandate,” the Slovenian representative on the ECB’ Governing Council said.

Their comments add to similar remarks by six other ECB policymakers earlier in the week, showing consensus was building around a reduction in stimulus.

Indeed, sources have told Reuters that policymakers agreed last week that their next move would be cutting the amount of bonds the ECB buys each month although the details of any decision had yet to be worked out.

Euro zone inflation is now reliably above 1 percent, and ECB President Mario Draghi said he expected it to reach the ECB’s target in 2020, after missing it since 2013.

But Draghi also emphasized uncertainty stemming from the euro’s rally against the dollar and other major currencies, which could affect inflation by making imports cheaper and exports dearer.

Jazbec played down this threat, arguing that the strong euro was “a reflection of robustness of growth” in the euro zone.

Additional reporting by Marja Novak and Balazs Koranyi; Editing by Larry King