Italy cheers ECB bond buying plan, sees big boost to economy

January 24
8:38 PM 2015

The European Central Bank's bond buying program will give a decisive boost to Italy's stagnant economy, business lobby Confindustria said on Saturday, while the Bank of Italysaid it would make it easier to pass reforms.

The ECB announced on Thursday it would pump hundreds of billions of euros in new money into a sagging euro zone economy, despite opposition from Germany's Bundesbank.

Confindustria said the plan could raise Italian gross domestic product by 0.8 percent this year and by a further 1 percent in 2016 by weakening the euro exchange rate, thus boosting exports, and by lowering long-term interest rates.

The impact of the so-called quantitative easing (QE) program will be considerable, given that Confindustria forecast last month that Italy's economy would grow by just 0.5 percent this year.

Italy has been the euro zone's most sluggish economy over the last decade and has not posted a single quarter of growth since the middle of 2011.

Confindustria's research note calculated that the decline in bond yields produced by QE would translate into a saving of 3.2 billion euros per year in borrowing costs for Italian companies.

At the same time Bank of Italy Governor Ignazio Visco sought to ease concerns expressed by Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann that QE reduced the pressure on Italy and other countries to pursue tough but necessary economic reforms.

"The reduction of uncertainty as a result of QE will lower the cost of carrying out reforms, which are currently held back by the adverse economic conditions," Visco said in an interview published on Saturday in daily La Stampa.

Visco, who sits on the governing council of the ECB led by fellow Italian Mario Draghi, said he would have preferred to see the ECB shoulder all the financial risks of QE rather than just 20 percent as was decided.

The remaining 80 percent of any losses accruing from the bond-buying will be taken on by the national central banks and Visco said the Bank of Italy would set aside a larger part of its reserves to take account of these risks.

Separating the risks gives an impression of growing "fragmentation" while the euro zoneshould instead be aiming at further integration, Visco said.

However, the size of the program and the fact that it is open-ended outweighs such concern and means the overall package is "a good result," he said.

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