European Central Bank announces largest interest rate hike in bid to fight inflation

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By Euronews
A giant Euro symbol stands in front of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, Germany.
A giant Euro symbol stands in front of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, Germany.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Michael Probst

The European Central Bank (ECB) on Thursday announced a record rate hike in a bid to stifle record inflation across the euro area.

The ECB's three key interest rates were each raised by 75 basis points.

"This major step frontloads the transition from the prevailing highly accommodative level of policy rates towards levels that will ensure the timely return of inflation to the ECB’s 2% medium-term target," the bank's Governing Body said in a statement.

It also flagged to markets that "over the next several meetings the Governing Council expects to raise interest rates further to dampen demand and guard against the risk of a persistent upward shift in inflation expectations."

The move sees the ECB follow in the policy footstep of the US Federal Reserve which carried out two jumbo rate hikes of 0.75 points in June and July. 

It also comes just over a month after the ECB operated its first increase in 11 years by a larger-than-expected 0.5%.

ECB President Christine Lagarde stressed during a press conference that any further interest rate increase would be "data dependent and follow meeting by meeting approach".

Central banks' main mandate is to keep inflation under control and one of the main tools at their disposal is interest rates through which they can make the cost of borrowing — and therefore spending and investing — either cheaper or more expensive as it becomes more or less costlier for commercial banks to borrow money.

There is a risk however that a hike in interest rates could also lead to slower growth as consumers and businesses delay spending. 

Inflation across the 19 countries of the eurozone reached a record 9.1% last month led by a surge in energy, and in particular gas, prices.

The Frankfurt institution, which tries to keep inflation at around 2%, has significantly revised up its forecast and now expects inflation to average 8.1% this year before starting a slow decrease and settle at 5.5% in 2023 and 2.3% in 2024.

It meanwhile expects economic growth to take a hit and reach 3.1% in 2022, 0.9% next year and 1.9% the following year.

The "substantial slowdown" is attributed to "very high energy prices" which are impacting purchasing power at a time when supply chain disruptions, although easing, are still "constraining economic activity."

Lagarde also highlighted that the high inflation is dampening spending and production and that global demand is also weakening owing in part to tighter monetary policy worldwide.

"Uncertainty remains high and confidence is falling sharply," the former chief of the International Monetary Fund also emphasised, due to the war in Ukraine and possible further energy supply disruptions.

She also noted that although the labour market has "remained robust" over the past few months, the slowing economy is "likely to lead to some increase in the unemployment rate."