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Euro zone bond markets brace for ECB shift, stimulus scheme nears end

Reuters/London 14 Jun 18 | 09:55 PM

The headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) are pictured in Frankfurt

European government bond yields in the euro area edged up on Thursday as the European Central Bank prepared to debate whether to end its unprecedented stimulus scheme this year.

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On Wednesday the US Federal Reserve raised interest rates as expected, and signalled two more hikes this year, citing higher inflation.

Two-year US Treasury yields touched their highest in nearly a decade and 10-year bond yields hit 3-week peaks after the Fed move, narrowing the gap between the two to the tightest since at least March 2010. 

ALSO READ: Draghi ends ECB bond-buying era saying economy strong enough to beat risk

But there was little follow-through from the US sell-off in Europe as US bonds recovered quickly and many investors moved to the sidelines ahead of the ECB meeting.

The ECB is widely expected to wind down its 2.55 trillion euro stimulus scheme later this year and a shift in policy later in the day is anticipated following hawkish comments from some top ECB officials last week.

Whether policymakers take an actual decision on Thursday or hold off until July appears secondary as they have long argued that the scheme should be concluded and the policy focus shifts to the expected path of interest rates. 

ALSO READ: Draghi and his ECB colleagues say they'll go slow paring back stimulus

"The ECB will map out the end of asset purchases today," said KBC rate strategist Mathias van der Jeugt. "Time is running against the ECB and it would be wise to lay out policy for the remainder of the year so any unexpected events over the summer, for instance from Italy, don't interfere with its plans."

Ten-year bond yields across the single currency bloc were 1-2 basis points higher on the day.

Germany's benchmark Bond yield was up around a basis point at 0.49 per cent, below an almost three-week high hit earlier this week at around 0.52 per cent.

Any changes to asset purchases or the central bank's policy guidance should appear in the ECB policy statement at 11:45 GMT. More details, including latest economic forecasts, would follow at ECB chief Mario Draghi's press conference 45 minutes later. 

The biggest complication for the ECB could be the increasingly murky economic outlook, weighed down by a developing trade war with the United States, a populist challenge from Italy's new government and softening export demand.

"It's all going to be about how strong Draghi's forward guidance is," said Patrick O'Donnell, investment manager, Aberdeen Asset Management.

"How Draghi manages essentially not to get the market too excited about rate hikes next year but be upbeat enough to end QE this year is the tightrope he has to walk."

What Draghi has to say about Italy is also likely to be in focus given a market rout that briefly pushed long-dated Italian bond yields to four-year highs in late May.

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