LONDON (AP) — As if the European Central Bank needed any more incentive to inject another dose of stimulus into the 19-country eurozone economy, official figures on Wednesday showed inflation in the region remains worryingly low.
The annual rate of price increase across the eurozone was stuck at 0.1 percent in November, the European Union's statistics agency said. That was below market expectations for an uptick to 0.2 percent and way short of the ECB's target of just below 2 percent.
As a result of weak inflation and growth, the central bank is expected to announce another stimulus for the eurozone at the conclusion of its policy meeting Thursday despite some reservations within the ECB's governing council.
Most economists expect the ECB to make it more expensive for commercial banks to park their cash at the central bank — cutting the so-called deposit rate further into negative territory — and to extend and swell its current 1.1 trillion-euro ($1.2 trillion) government bond-buying program.
Jonathan Loynes, chief European economist at Capital Economics, said the inflation numbers have given the "green light" to the ECB to announce "much-needed additional stimulus" on Thursday.
"The ECB is likely to remain nervous that a further period of low inflation will lead to a bigger drop in inflation expectations and take action tomorrow accordingly," said Loynes. He expects the ECB to increase its monthly pace of asset purchases from 60 billion euros to 80 billion and cut its deposit rate by a further 0.20 percentage point to minus 0.4 percent.
The aim of both measures would be to stoke inflation by giving a boost to economic activity in the region through a combination of low interest rates and more bank lending.
Policymakers at the ECB will be particularly concerned by the fact that the core inflation rate, which strips out volatile items such as energy, food, alcohol and tobacco, fell to 0.9 percent from 1.1 percent. The consensus in the markets was the rate to remain unchanged.
The low core rate is likely to fuel concerns that low inflation is becoming embedded in expectations.
The euro fell in reaction to the inflation figures, from about $1.0620 to $1.0584. That's a sign that traders think the figures make it more likely that the ECB' will be bold in its decision on expanding stimulus.
Inflation in the eurozone, as well as many parts of the world, has been low — sometimes even negative — for more than a year, largely because oil and commodity prices have fallen sharply in financial markets.
Among many knock-on effects, that's led to lower domestic energy bills, falling prices at the pump and subdued costs for businesses. Weak economic growth in large parts of the eurozone has also failed to push up wages, which is one tried-and-trusted way of generating inflation.
Inflation could start rising in the next few months largely because last year's drop in energy prices falls out of the annual comparison. Still, with the eurozone economy still sluggish, few economists think wages will grow strongly and as such inflation is expected to remain quite a way below target for some time yet.
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