The European Central Bank is raising interest rates despite the market chaos, promising support if needed

The President of the European Central Bank (ECB), Christine Lagarde, announces a new monetary policy decision.

Friedrich Florin | AFP | Getty Images

The European Central Bank on Thursday announced a further 50 basis point hike in interest rates, signaling that it is ready to provide banks with liquidity if needed amid the recent turmoil in the banking sector.

The ECB had signaled for several weeks that it would hike rates again at its March meeting, as inflation is well above target levels across the 20-member region. In February, preliminary data showed headline inflation at 8.5%, well above the central bank’s target of 2%.

Some market participants questioned whether President Christine Lagarde would still take this step given the recent shocks in the banking sector. CreditSuisse Stocks fell as much as 30% in intraday trade on Wednesday, and the broad banking sector ended Wednesday’s session down about 7%.

“Inflation is likely to stay too high for too long. Therefore, the Governing Council decided today to raise the ECB’s three key interest rates by 50 basis points,” the ECB said in a statement.

This latest move brings the bank’s policy rate to 3%. It was in negative territory prior to July last year.

“The Governing Council is closely monitoring the current market tensions and stands ready to react as necessary to safeguard price and financial stability in the euro area. The euro area banking sector is resilient and has a strong capital and liquidity position,” the central bank said in the same statement.

The first pressure on the banking sector came last week when the US authorities declared Silicon Valley Bank insolvent. The event plunged the bank’s international subsidiaries into collapse and raised concerns about central banks raising interest rates at a very aggressive pace. Goldman Sachs was quick to adjust its rate expectations for the Federal Reserve, which is due to meet next week – the bank now expects a 25 basis point hike after previously forecasting a 50 basis point hike.

European officials were fond of pointing out that the situation in Europe was different from that in the United States. Overall, there is less concentration of deposits – SVB has been a major lender to the tech and healthcare sectors – deposit flows appear to be stable and European banks are well capitalized since the regulatory overhaul following the global financial crisis.

Equity measures on Thursday showed some relief across the banking sector after Credit Suisse announced it would borrow up to $54 billion from the Swiss National Bank.

The ECB also revised its inflation expectations on Thursday. It now sees headline inflation averaging 5.3% this year, followed by 2.9% in 2024. In December, the bank had forecast an inflation rate of 6.3% for 2023 and a rate of 3.4% for 2024 .

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