ECB ready to act if inflation stays low for too long: Draghi

Mon Dec 16, 2013 12:59pm EST
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By Martin Santa

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Central Bank is ready to intervene if inflation remains low for too long, President Mario Draghi said on Monday, adding that he was certain the euro zone will escape the fate of Japan.

Draghi kept his cards close to his chest, however, and declined to discuss in detail the instruments it could use to counter any prolonged weakness in prices.

But he pointed out that the reason banks were not lending to households and companies was not because they lacked funding, suggesting more long-term ECB loans are unlikely for now.

Euro zone inflation has fallen far below the ECB's target of below but close to 2 percent in recent months as the bloc crawls out of recession and banks try to clear their balance sheets of assets that turned sour during the crisis.

The situation reminds some observers of Japan in the 1990s after the burst of a real estate bubble pushed the country into a deflationary cycle from which it has still not fully recovered.

"We are fully aware of the downward risks that a protracted period of low inflation entails," Draghi told the European parliament. "The Governing Council is ready and able to act if needed."

"We don't see a situation like Japan," Draghi said.

"We looked at the differences, and the differences are essentially that medium- to long-term inflation expectations are firmly anchored in our case; they were not in Japan of the early 90s, early 2000s."   Continued...

European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi testifies before the European Parliament's Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee in Brussels December 16, 2013. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir