FRANKFURT, Sept 27 (Reuters) – The amount of money circulating in the euro zone shrank by the most on record last month as banks curbed lending and depositors locked up their savings, two tangible effects of the European Central Bank’s fight against inflation.
Faced with the highest inflation rates in its nearly 25-year history, the ECB has turned off the money taps by jacking up interest rates to record highs and withdrawing some of the liquidity it pumped into the banking system over the previous decade.
The ECB’s latest lending data on Wednesday showed this sharp increase in borrowing costs was having the desired effect and may fuel a debate over whether such a brisk tightening cycle may even push the 20-country euro zone into a recession.
A measure of money supply comprising just cash and current account balances shrank by an unprecedented 11.9% in August as bank customers switched to term deposits now offering much better returns as a result of the ECB’s rate hikes.
The ECB’s own research shows that a drop in this gauge of money, once it is adjusted for inflation, is a reliable harbinger of recession, although board member Isabel Schnabel said last week it was more likely to reflect a normalisation in savers’ portfolios at this juncture.
A broader measure of money that also includes term deposits and short-term bank debt also declined by a record-breaking 1.3%, showing some money was leaving the banking sector altogether — likely to be parked in government bonds and funds.
“This paints a bleak picture for the euro zone’s near-term prospects,” Daniel Kral, an economist at Oxford Economics, said. “We now think GDP is likely to contract in Q3 and to stagnate in the final quarter of this year.”
Crucially, banks were also creating less money through loans.
Lending to businesses slowed to a near stand-still in August, expanding by just 0.6%, the lowest figure since late 2015, from 2.2% a month earlier. Lending to households rose just 1.0% after 1.3% in July, the ECB said.
The monthly flow of loans to businesses was a negative 22 billion euros in August compared to July, the weakest figure in over two years, when the bloc was suffering through the pandemic.
“This is not good news for the eurozone economy, which is already stagnating and showing increasing signs of weakness,” said Bert Colijn, an economist at ING. “We expect broad sluggishness to continue as a result of the impact of restrictive monetary policy on the economy.”