The pound rose against the US dollar in early trade, its highest in a week. It was also higher against the euro after the European Central Bank’s policy update did not offer any signs that it will proceed to raising interest rates any time soon. The ECB’s guidance was similar to the last one in May and disappointed markets who were expecting that policy makers would be more decisive about a 2022 rate hike to fight surging inflation.

While inflation is a global concern, the ECB avoided signalling an end to its bond purchase programme and stated they would continue to buy assets even after they start raising rates. The euro weakened following the news.

Inflation to remain high

In its statement, the ECB said that inflation has increased considerably and will remain high in the coming months because of the high energy prices. The bank did not show it was extremely concerned about wider price pressures in the economy. Earlier in March, the ECB said that it would end its asset purchase programme one quarter earlier than before which helped to push the euro higher. This is why market expectations were high today, and market participants were disappointed as the statement was not as aggressive as expected and no new policy changes were announced.

Many investors were looking for a more “hawkish” tone as inflation has risen especially following the war in Ukraine. The ECB did not touch upon the issue of interest rate rises, despite that the market was expecting 60 basis points of hikes for 2022.

ECB Press Conference

In a press conference, ECB President Christine Lagarde said that the central bank was focused on ending the asset purchase programme before raising rates, with the first hike coming some time after the ending of the asset purchase programme. Lagarde said: "We will maintain optionality, gradualism and flexibility in the conduct of our monetary policy.” Analysts expect the earliest rate to come in December, with the 60-basis point being an over optimistic forecast.  

At the conference, there was no mention of the new emergency tools that the ECB was exploring if bond yields of peripheral economies rose. The ECB was creating a so-called backstop to be used against debt-market pressures outside the control of individual governments.

The ECB’s cautious tone today drove the euro lower as the market was not expecting a softer attitude amidst surging inflation. European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde’s comments were seen as a sign that the bank was not in a hurry to raise interest rates and offered no hard schedule and little specifics beyond the coming months. As she said, “We'll deal with interest rates when we get there."

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