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Business & Finance

ECB blames redemptions as emergency bond buys slow

  • The ECB bought 11.9 billion euros worth of bonds under its Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP) in the five days to March 5, slightly less than in the previous week.
  • An ECB spokesman said the net purchases were affected by "seasonality factors", particularly large redemptions, which "temporarily delayed" an increase in the ECB's bond pile.
08 Mar, 2021

FRANKFURT: The European Central Bank blamed large bond redemptions for failing to raise the pace of its emergency purchases, which underperformed expectations last week, adding to doubts about its commitment to support the pandemic-stricken, debt-laden economy.

Investors had been awaiting the weekly update to establish whether a divided ECB was prepared to step in and stem a selloff in government bond markets, largely spurred by talk of higher inflation in the United States.

The ECB bought 11.9 billion euros worth of bonds under its Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP) in the five days to March 5, slightly less than in the previous week, the data showed.

Analysts at UniCredit had said PEPP purchases of less than 17 billion euros would disappoint investors while Pictet had set the bar at 20 billion euros.

An ECB spokesman said the net purchases were affected by "seasonality factors", particularly large redemptions, which "temporarily delayed" an increase in the ECB's bond pile.

The small net purchases in PEPP were offset by more buying under other ECB programmes, which took the weekly total to 17 billion euros, up by 24% on the week before.

Around 24 billion euros in Italian multi-year bonds and a further 8 billion euros in French inflation-protected notes matured during the reporting period, according to UniCredit estimates.

The ECB will publish redemption figures on Tuesday. The central bank had also blamed smaller-than-expected purchases the previous week on redemptions worth nearly 10 billion euros.

ECB policymakers are divided on the merits of intervening to bring down bond yields ahead of their policy meeting on Thursday.

The 'dovish' camp, headed by Italian board member Fabio Panetta, has argued that the rise in yields is unwarranted and jeopardising the euro zone's recovery.

However, his German colleague Isabel Schnabel and Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann have been more cautious, with the former going as far as saying that a rise in yields could be welcome if it reflected improved growth prospects.

The ECB has 971 billion euros worth of PEPP firepower left to spend.

Despite the rise, bond yields are still low in absolute terms or even negative.

Italy was paying 0.75% to borrow for 10 years on the market, or less than the expected rate of inflation. Germany, the bloc's safe haven was still getting paid 0.29% via below-zero yields.

ECB weekly data includes trades completed by the market close on Wednesday, which then take two days to settle.

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