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ECB Floats and then Denies Mass Bond-Buying Scheme

According to the German magazine Der Spiegel, the European Central Bank has floated a scheme to set limits on bond yields for sovereign debt among member nations in the Eurozone, essentially through a mass bond-buying program.

The European Central Bank is considering setting limits on yields of euro area sovereign debt by pledging unlimited bond purchases, Germany’s Spiegel magazine reported without saying where it obtained the information.

The policy will be decided at the September meeting of the ECB’s governing council, Spiegel said. The Frankfurt-based central bank would immediately publish bond purchases after making them, the magazine added. An ECB official declined to comment on the article.

This has led debt yields in troubled sovereigns like Spain and Italy to cascade downward. For those people who wondered whether the ECB would ever take out the bazooka, this is what it would look like.

But the ECB has just put out a denial of the Der Spiegel report. They say that bond yield targets have not been discussed, and that the central bank will adhere to its mandate. This is actually kind of a non-denial denial – the point of the Der Spiegel article was that this scheme would be discussed in a future meeting in September – but it’s notable that the ECB felt the need to push back, since that alone will probably reverse the trend on Italian and Spanish debt yields and send them back upward. The ECB apparently does not understand the importance of a communications channel in its policymaking.

There would still be plenty of hurdles before any plan like this goes into action, anyway, the biggest being the Bundesbank, the central bank of Germany, which would surely oppose it.

So consider this another case of first raising then dashing hopes that the policymakers in Europe will take the necessary steps to avert collapse. And by the way, continued suffering matters just as much as collapse in this context; each day the policymakers refuse to fix the Eurozone mess makes it that much more expensive when they actually come around. Meanwhile, the Greek Prime Minister meets with Eurozone leaders this week, which could bring that element of the crisis to a head, if the Eurozone denies further aid.

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David Dayen

David Dayen