The European Central Bank: A Forex Trader’s Guide
The European Central Bank (ECB) is situated in Frankfurt, Germany. It was established in 1998 by the Treaty of Amsterdam. The European Central Bank is different to other central banks in that it controls monetary policy for the entire eurozone. Countries that belong to the eurozone include Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.
What is the ECB
The European Central Bank acts as the central bank for the 19 countries that belong to the eurozone. The European Central Bank is overseen by a governing council that consists of six executive board members, with one serving as the president. The executive board members are appointed by the European Council.
The European Central Bank’s primary objective is to maintain price stability. They use monetary policy to support the economy and job creation.
Key Economic Mandates of the ECB
The European Central Bank’s primary mandate or objective is price stability. Price stability is the control of inflation, Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) and the exchange rate of the EUR.
1) Price Stability - which is price stability or inflation
2) Financial stability – Through the control of price stability and sometimes other mechanisms.
To maintain price stability, the European Central Bank influences the short-term interest rate for the eurozone. The European Central Bank has a target interest rate (like most central banks) of below, or close to, 2%. Although they target inflation mostly, GDP and unemployment data have a big effect on the decisions the policy makers make.
If inflation goes above 2%, the European Central Bank may signal a hiking of the interest rate to the public to tighten the eurozone’s economic expansion and bring down inflation. If unemployment numbers are increasing and the economy is slowing down, the bank may have to make the decision to decrease interest rates, to stimulate the economy and job growth. A period of rising inflation and increasing unemployment will require the policy makers to weigh the pros and cons of tightening the economy to reign-in inflation or stimulate the economy to produce jobs.
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The European Central Bank also plays a large role in keeping the eurozone’s financial system stable. In times of a crisis they can do this by adding liquidity to the system, either by buying bonds on the open market or decreasing the interest rate to extremely low levels to help distressed debt holders pay back their obligations.
If the European Central Bank does not add liquidity in times of a crisis, the entire financial system could collapse.
How ECB interest rates affect the Euro
Interest rate impact on the Euro
The European Central Bank can affect the value of the Euro through changes in interest rate expectations. Traders should understand that currencies tend to appreciate when interest rate expectations increase, not just from increases in the nominal interest rate.
For example, if the European Central Bank keeps interest rates unchanged but issues forward guidance (tells the market) that they expect more interest rate hikes in future, the value of the Euro tends to appreciate.
A quantitative easing program (QE)has a similar effect to interest rates on the Euro. Quantitative easing is the buying of securities on the open market by a Central Bank in order to stimulate the economy and add liquidity to the financial system. Historically it has only been done in times of a financial crisis. Increased quantitative easing reduces the value of the Euro because it increases the amount of money in supply.
Interest rate impact on the economy
The European Central Bank lowers interest rates when it is trying to stimulate the economy (GDP) and increases interest rates when it is trying to contain inflation caused by an economy operating above potential (overheating).
Lower interest rates stimulate an economy in a few ways:
- Businesses can borrow money and invest in projects that will receive more than the risk borrowing rate.
- When interest rates are lower the stock market is discounted at a lower rate, leading to an appreciation in stock market values which causes a wealth effect.
- People invest their money into the economy (stocks and other assets) because they can earn more in these assets than at currently low interest rates.
How to trade ECB interest rate decisions
The table below displays the possible scenarios that come from a change in interest rate expectations. Traders can use this information to forecast if the currency is likely to appreciate or depreciate and how to trade it.
Resulting FX Impact
Depreciation of currency
Appreciation of currency
Appreciation of currency
Depreciation of currency
Let’s look at an example, EUR/USD, where the European Central Bank ended its long-time program of quantitative easing. Ending the quantitative easing program means that the central bank would no longer be adding more money to the system. On December 13, 2018 the European Central Bank announced an end to its quantitative easing program, which led to an appreciation in the Euro because it signalled that less money than expected would be in the economy.
Top Takeaways of the ECB and Forex Trading
- The European Central Bank is fundamental to the value of the Euro.
- The Euro tends to appreciate or depreciate depending on changes in interest rate expectations, not just on actual changes.
- Quantitative easing has a similar effect to changes in interest rates. Changes in expectations of quantitative easing will have an effect on the Euro.
- Rising inflation does not mean the European Central Bank will increase interest rates, it depends on the balance between economic growth and inflation. The ECB will raise rates if inflation is close to, at, or above target – the ECB’s primary mandate is to maintain price stability (inflation).
Learn more about forex fundamentals
Use the DailyFX economic calendar to keep an eye on all the important economic data releases, including central bank speeches and interest rate data. Don’t forget to bookmark our Central Bank Rates Calendar so you can prepare for regular announcements.
If you are just getting started on your trading journey, get to grips with the basics of forex trading in our New to Forex trading guide.
Learn more about other central banks
Most central banks have similar mandates of controlling price stability and upholding financial stability, although there are some differences. Learn more about the different central banks:
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