ECB rate cut less likely as German inflation hits 3-yr high
Inflation in Germany hit a three-year high of 2.6 percent in September, official data showed Wednesday, dampening speculation of a possible cut in eurozone interest rates any time soon.
At 2.6 percent on a 12-month basis, the headline inflation figure for the eurozone's largest economy was the highest since September 2008 and up on the 2.4 percent recorded in August, the national statistics office Destatis said.
It was also higher than expected: analysts had been pencilling in stable inflation rates this month in view of lower oil prices and weakening economic outlook.
On a monthly basis, consumer prices rose by 0.1 percent in September.
As in previous months, rising energy costs, in particular for heating and motor fuels, but also higher clothing prices were the main factor behind the pick-up, Destatis said.
Using the EU's Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP), which is the European Central Bank's inflation yardstick, the cost of living in Germany rose by 2.8 percent on a 12-month basis in September, up from 2.5 percent the previous month.
The ECB aims to keep inflation close to, but below 2.0 percent, so the higher-than-expected German inflation number could dent hopes for a cut in interest rates at the central bank's policy meeting next week, analysts said.
"With leading indicators pointing to a mild recession and inflation likely to ease as soon as last year's oil price hikes drop from the equation, an ECB rate cut is becoming likely," said Christian Schulz, senior economist at Berenberg Bank.
A number of recent comments from ECB governing council members had even appeared to suggest that such a cut could come soon, maybe as early as next week.
"However, with inflation continuing to run relatively high in Germany, a quick cut may be harder to justify," Schulz said.
Furthermore, recent leading indicators such as German business confidence suggested any recession would probably be mild and short.
So instead of cutting interest rates, the ECB could continue to support banks via other measures, such as reintroducing one-year refinancing operations or purchasing assets such as covered bonds, the analyst argued.
That would enable the ECB to keep its gunpowder dry and save a rate cut for when the economic data deteriorate even further, possibly a few months into the term of incoming president Mario Draghi who takes over from Jean-Claude Trichet in November.
"In December, Draghi could pre-announce a rate cut for January," Schulz suggested.
Postbank economist Thilo Heidrich also believed the ECB would leave its interest rates at their current level of 1.50 percent for the time being.
Alexander Koch at UniCredit argued that inflation was nearing its peak and would start coming down again early next year.
"Business surveys show that the peak in selling price expectations is now clearly behind us. Accordingly, the headline inflation rate should be close to its cyclical peak," he said.
"Following an elevated level of headline inflation of 2.3 percent this year, we expect a deceleration to 1.7 percent for 2012."
© 2011 AFP