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Europe is less at risk of inflation and rate fears

Paris, France—Investors are watching inflation carefully, worried that a boiling over of prices will ruin the expected strong pandemic recovery although analysts believe Europe faces much less of a risk than the United States.

Fears that US President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan—which was passed by the House of Representatives on Saturday—will stoke up the economy too much have unnerved investors in recent weeks.

A rise in yields on 10-year US Treasury bonds—a key indicator of expectations—shows the markets believe prices are set to rise much more sharply than last year’s gain of 1.4 percent, which could force the US Federal Reserve to hike interest rates earlier than it says it plans to do.

Bond yields have risen elsewhere too, with 10-year French government bonds turning positive on Thursday for the first time in months while the benchmark 10-year German Bund has also risen although it remains negative.

European inflation data for January showed a jump in prices of 0.9 percent compared to a minus 0.3 percent reading in December, as increased costs of raw materials fed through into services and industrial goods.

After having slowed considerably in 2020, inflation is expected to rise this year in Europe as the economy picks up following the relaxation of measures to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But it is not so much a spike in inflation that worries investors but that the Fed would raise interest rates faster than it has communicated.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell pledged Tuesday that the US central bank will keep benchmark lending rates low until the economy is at full employment and inflation has risen consistently above its 2.0 percent target.

But bond yields continued to rise, indicating investor concern about a rise in interest rates that would make borrowing and investment more expensive and slow the economy. 

However, many analysts are skeptical that Biden’s stimulus program will spark considerable inflation.

“It isn’t clear that Biden’s recovery plan will create lots of inflation,” said Xavier Ragot, head of the French Economic Observatory think tank.

For the European Union, there is no likelihood that its pandemic recovery program would, he believes.

“The amounts of the European recovery plans pose absolutely no inflationary risk,” he said.

The European Commission’s recovery program is worth 750 billion euros ($920 billion), with several EU members also having their own national programs.

“We have a European recovery program... considerably less strong, and a loss of growth that is much greater, so there aren’t the same risks of overheating as in the United States,” said Fabien Tripier, an economist at CEPII, a Paris-based research centre on the world economy.

The US economy shrank 3.5 percent last year while the drop for the eurozone was nearly double that.

There is “no risk of overheating or a sustained rise in inflation” in the eurozone, the head of the Banque de France, Francois Villeroy de Galhau, insisted this past week. 

Topics: inflation , coronavirus pandemic , House of Representatives , Jerome Powell
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