The European Central Bank (ECB) said Thursday it would “significantly” accelerate a plan to buy as much as €1.85 trillion (US$2.2 trillion) of government bonds, addressing concerns that a recent tightening of financial conditions, in the form of rising market yields, might derail the region’s economic recovery.
The accelerated bond purchases will come under the central bank’s Pandemic Emergency Purchase Program (PEPP), a monetary-stimulus effort similar to the Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing” asset purchases in the U.S. The PEPP is set to end in March 2022, but the pace of the bond purchases will now accelerate, according to a press release from the ECB.
“Market interest rates have increased since the start of the year, which poses a risk to wider financing conditions,” ECB President Christine Lagarde said in prepared remarks. “If sizable and persistent, increases in these market interest rates, when left unchecked, could translate into a premature tightening of financing conditions for all sectors of the economy.”
The extended bond purchasing program is expected to continue until the ECB Governing Council “judges that the coronavirus crisis phase is over,” the ECB said.
“Markets have been looking for clarity from the ECB in the past few weeks amid conflicting messages, and it seems as if the central bank has listened. The introductory statement now sends a clear signal that PEPP purchases will be increased through Q2, as we expected,” said Claus Vistesen, chief eurozone economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, in an email.
Prospects for higher inflation and rising yields have been closely watched by cryptocurrency investors. Bitcoin is increasingly seen by big institutional investors as a potential inflation hedge, in the face of trillions of dollars of pandemic-related economic stimulus from governments and central banks around the world.