All week, the financial markets have been euphoric over the proposals that came out of the E.U. summit last Friday. Spanish banks are getting a bailout! Italian bonds are getting bought up! Merkel’s starting to crack! Everybody party!
And so, right on cue, here comes Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, to turn the music down and remind everyone that Europe’s biggest problem is still economic growth. In his speech today, Draghi noted that the outlook for Europe is very dreary indeed:
Let me now explain our assessment in greater detail, starting with the economic analysis. On a quarterly basis, euro area real GDP growth was flat in the first quarter of 2012, following a decline of 0.3% in the previous quarter. Indicators for the second quarter of 2012 point to a renewed weakening of economic growth and heightened uncertainty. Looking beyond the short term we expect the euro area economy to recover gradually, although with momentum dampened by a number of factors. In particular, tensions in some euro area sovereign debt markets and their impact on credit conditions, the process of balance sheet adjustment in the financial and non-financial sectors and high unemployment are expected to weigh on the underlying growth momentum.
Not good. The European Central Bank is trying to counteract the gloom and provide a small bit of stimulus by cutting its main interest rate from 1 percent to 0.75 percent. The ECB also cut its deposit rate to zero, which, as Izabella Kaminska explains in detail, is meant to prod people to invest their money in the economy, rather than stashing it at the ECB for safekeeping. Note, however, that Draghi’s still not willing to cut interest rates as much as Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve have.
So that raises the question of whether Draghi actually did enough to boost growth. Shouldn’t he be doing more? One possibility is that, as my colleague Michael Birnbaum notes, Draghi doesn’t want to provide too much of an economic boost to the euro zone. After all, that would remove all incentives for Spain and Italy to carry out various structural reforms:
The bank’s decision appeared to again walk the tightrope between reducing the possibility of immediate economic catastrophe while leaving enough undone that Spain, Italy and others remain in serious trouble and still have to pursue economic measures to make their finances more sustainable.
If that’s true, then mission accomplished. As Business Insider’s Simone Foxman points out, all the key financial indicators in Europe are tanking today. Spanish borrowing costs are rising to worrisome levels once again. European leaders still have plenty of reason to panic and hold more summits to fix the euro zone.