Record low interest rate won’t last for ever

Euro zone states and the private sector should not count on the current phase of low interest rates continuing forever, European Central Bank policymaker and the head of Germany’s Bundesbank, Jens Weidmann, told a German newspaper on Sunday.

Weidmann also reiterated criticism of the ECB’s vow to buy up the bonds of struggling euro zone states and said that markets had overlooked the fact that ECB President Mario Draghi had said that the bank would operate within its mandate – meaning there would be restrictions on the bond buys.

Asked by Sueddeutsche Zeitung whether Europe could afford rising interest rates at the moment, Weidmann replied: “Neither states nor the private sector should expect the current phase of low interest rates to continue permanently.”

“They must be able to service their debt in a normal interest rate situation too.”

Weidmann, an ECB governing council member, said euro zone states’ debt problems should not lead the ECB to hesitate about tightening monetary policy if needed.

“I do not see inflation at the moment, however,” he said.

Weidmann has previously warned against keeping interest rates too low for too long, saying all central banks faced the challenge of withdrawing from a loose monetary policy once risks to price stability emerged.

Weidmann said the restrictions on the ECB’s bond buying programme were a step in the right direction. “But they do not solve the fundamental problem that arises from the selective purchase of sovereign bonds with bad ratings”.

Draghi announced the plan, dubbed Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT), last year to kill off speculation that the 17-member euro zone could collapse under the weight of its debt crisis.

Draghi has called the measure “probably the most successful monetary policy measure undertaken in recent time”. But Weidmann opposes it and has repeatedly said central banks should stick to their primary role of ensuring price stability.

Separately, Weidmann said in the interview that it was not acceptable for Cyprus to shift the costs of restructuring its banks onto its central bank.

“It should be made clear the restructuring of banks is a duty of fiscal policy and not of the euro system,” he said. “Politicians must decide who must carry the losses – whether investors and creditors should be involved, or if the tax payer should be burdened.”

Cyprus had to close down one of its banks, impose losses on savers and introduce capital controls to secure an international bailout in March. ( C ) Reuters