Frankfurt am Main, 9 September 2021
Good afternoon, the Vice-President and I welcome you to our press conference.
The rebound phase in the recovery of the euro area economy is increasingly advanced. Output is expected to exceed its pre-pandemic level by the end of the year. With more than 70 per cent of European adults fully vaccinated, the economy has largely reopened, allowing consumers to spend more and companies to increase production. While rising immunity to the coronavirus means that the impact of the pandemic is now less severe, the global spread of the Delta variant could yet delay the full reopening of the economy. The current increase in inflation is expected to be largely temporary and underlying price pressures are building up only slowly. The inflation outlook in our new staff projections has been revised slightly upwards, but in the medium term inflation is foreseen to remain well below our two per cent target.
Financing conditions for firms, households and the public sector have remained favourable since our previous quarterly assessment in June. Favourable financing conditions are essential for the economy to continue its recovery and to offset the negative impact of the pandemic on inflation.
Based on a joint assessment of financing conditions and the inflation outlook, the Governing Council judges that favourable financing conditions can be maintained with a moderately lower pace of net asset purchases under the pandemic emergency purchase programme (PEPP) than in the previous two quarters.
We also confirmed our other measures, namely the level of the key ECB interest rates, our forward guidance on their likely future evolution, our purchases under the asset purchase programme (APP), our reinvestment policies and our longer-term refinancing operations, as detailed in the press release published at 13:45 today. We stand ready to adjust all of our instruments, as appropriate, to ensure that inflation stabilises at our two per cent target over the medium term.
I will now outline in more detail how we see the economy and inflation developing, and then talk about our assessment of financial and monetary conditions.
The economy rebounded by 2.2 per cent in the second quarter of the year, which was more than expected. It is on track for strong growth in the third quarter. The recovery builds on the success of the vaccination campaigns in Europe, which have allowed a significant reopening of the economy.
With the lifting of restrictions, the services sector is benefiting from people returning to shops and restaurants and from the rebound in travel and tourism. Manufacturing is performing strongly, even though production continues to be held back by shortages of materials and equipment. The spread of the Delta variant has so far not required lockdown measures to be reimposed. But it could slow the recovery in global trade and the full reopening of the economy.
Consumer spending is increasing, although consumers remain somewhat cautious in the light of the pandemic developments. The labour market is also improving rapidly, which holds out the prospect of higher incomes and greater spending. Unemployment is declining and the number of people in job retention schemes has fallen by about 28 million from the peak last year. The recovery in domestic and global demand is further boosting optimism among firms, which is supporting business investment.
At the same time, there remains some way to go before the damage to the economy caused by the pandemic is overcome. There are still more than two million fewer people employed than before the pandemic, especially among the younger and lower skilled. The number of workers in job retention schemes also remains substantial.
To support the recovery, ambitious, targeted and coordinated fiscal policy should continue to complement monetary policy. In particular, the Next Generation EU programme will help ensure a stronger and uniform recovery across euro area countries. It will also accelerate the green and digital transitions, support structural reforms and lift long-term growth.
We expect the economy to rebound firmly over the medium term. Our new staff projections foresee annual real GDP growth at 5.0 per cent in 2021, 4.6 per cent in 2022 and 2.1 per cent in 2023. Compared with our June staff projections, the outlook has improved for 2021 and is broadly unchanged for 2022 and 2023.
Inflation increased to 3.0 per cent in August. We expect inflation to rise further this autumn but to decline next year. This temporary upswing in inflation mainly reflects the strong increase in oil prices since around the middle of last year, the reversal of the temporary VAT reduction in Germany, delayed summer sales in 2020 and cost pressures that stem from temporary shortages of materials and equipment. In the course of 2022 these factors should ease or will fall out of the year-on-year inflation calculation.
Underlying inflation pressures have edged up. As the economy recovers further, and supported by our monetary policy measures, we expect underlying inflation to rise over the medium term. This increase is expected to be only gradual, since it will take time for the economy to return to operating at full capacity, and therefore wages are expected to grow only moderately. Measures of longer-term inflation expectations have continued to increase, but these remain some distance from our two per cent target.
The new staff projections foresee annual inflation at 2.2 per cent in 2021, 1.7 per cent in 2022 and 1.5 per cent in 2023, being revised up compared with the previous projections in June. Inflation excluding food and energy price inflation is projected to average 1.3 per cent in 2021, 1.4 per cent in 2022 and 1.5 per cent in 2023, also being revised up from the June projections.
We see the risks to the economic outlook as broadly balanced. Economic activity could outperform our expectations if consumers become more confident and save less than currently expected. A faster improvement in the pandemic situation could also lead to a stronger expansion than currently envisaged. If supply bottlenecks last longer and feed through into higher than anticipated wage rises, price pressures could be more persistent. At the same time, the economic outlook could deteriorate if the pandemic worsens, which could delay the further reopening of the economy, or if supply shortages turn out to be more persistent than currently expected and hold back production.
Financial and monetary conditions
The recovery of growth and inflation still depends on favourable financing conditions for all sectors of the economy. Market interest rates have eased over the summer, but reversed recently. Overall, financing conditions for the economy remain favourable.
Bank lending rates for firms and households are at historically low levels. Lending to households is holding up, especially for house purchases. The somewhat slower growth of lending to firms is mainly due to the fact that firms are still well funded, because they borrowed heavily in the first wave of the pandemic. They have high cash holdings and are increasingly retaining earnings, which reduces the need for external funding. For larger firms, issuing bonds is an attractive alternative to bank loans. Solid bank balance sheets continue to ensure that sufficient credit is available.
However, many firms and households have taken on more debt during the pandemic. A deterioration in the economic outlook could threaten their financial health. This, in turn, would worsen the quality of banks’ balance sheets. Policy support remains essential to prevent balance sheet strains and tightening financing conditions from reinforcing each other.
Summing up, the euro area economy is clearly rebounding. However, the speed of the recovery continues to depend on the course of the pandemic and progress with vaccinations. The current rise in inflation is expected to be largely temporary and underlying price pressures will build up only gradually. The slight improvement in the medium-term inflation outlook and the current level of financing conditions allow favourable financing conditions to be maintained with a moderately lower pace of net asset purchases under the PEPP. Our policy measures, including our revised forward guidance on the key ECB interest rates, are key to helping the economy shift to a sustained recovery and, ultimately, to bringing inflation to our two per cent target.
We are now ready to take your questions.