European Central Bank Executive Board member Fabio Panetta said economic expansion has almost ground to a halt in the euro area and faces further “high costs” as policy makers battle record inflation.
In the starkest warning yet from ECB of the damage being wrought by the war in Ukraine, Panetta told Italy’s La Stampa newspaper that the region’s economy is “de facto stagnating.”
“This makes the choices facing the ECB more complicated, as a monetary tightening aimed at containing inflation would end up hampering growth that is already weakening,” he said.
The comments strike a far more cautious note than some of Panetta’s more hawkish ECB colleagues, who’ve raised the possibility of raising interest rates from all-time lows starting in July to combat soaring prices.
Asked about that prospect, Panetta said “it does not make much of a difference whether it is two or three months earlier or later,” though he added that under current circumstances, “negative rates and net asset purchases may no longer be necessary.”
The ECB next rate meetings are on June 8-9 and July 20-21.
Panetta said inflation is being fanned by international factors that monetary policy can only address in a limited manner. That means the ECB “cannot tame inflation on our own without causing high costs for the economy.”
The biggest euro-zone members are already suffering. Highlighting the malaise, German factory orders plunged in March, falling more than anticipated after Russia’s invasion darkened the prospects for Europe’s top economy.
“It would be imprudent to act without having first seen the hard numbers on GDP for the second quarter and to discuss further measures without a full understanding of how the economy could develop over the following month,” Panetta said.
Second-quarter GDP data aren’t officially published until July 29, though indicators on how the economy is doing are available earlier.