Lagarde on European QE: It's already working

QE: 'Not enough to get Europe out of its rut'
QE: 'Not enough to get Europe out of its rut'   

The World Economic Forum in Davos has many different topics on the agenda, but this year it coincides with a hotly-anticipated announcement by Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank (ECB).

As part of the ECB's attempts to stimulate the deflation-hit euro zone, Draghi's press conference at 13:30 GMT, with a rate decision due at 12:45 GMT, is widely expected to be the moment the bank's Governing Council launches some form of government bond-buying.

And with some of the most powerful people on the planet all meeting in a conference center in Switzerland, quantitative easing (QE) is one of the hottest topics of the week.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), said on Thursday that expectations of a bond-buying program in Europe had already had an effect.

"To a point you can say that it has already worked," Lagarde said on a panel in Davos. "If you look at currency variation and where the euro is at the moment, you can't deny that there is expectations there that QE is about to come and is announced and will be significant."

European laggard economies were poised to benefit from the higher inflation expectations which would come with quantitative easing, Lagarde added. Official figures released earlier this month revealed that the euro zone slipped into deflation in December for the first time since 2009.

"If there is some re-anchoring of inflation in the euro area, those emerging European markets, which are pegged to the euro, will have the benefit of that," she said.

Speaking on the same panel as Lagarde, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers added: "I am all for European QE."

Willingness to surprise?

European Union officials were also eagerly anticipating the QE announcement.

Pierre Moscovici, the European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, told CNBC that Draghi had a willingness to surprise, while also being predictable.

"(Draghi) always acts in the interests of the euro zone as a whole," he said at Davos, but declined to comment further until the full announcement was released.

He added that the investment programs - which form part of the Commission's mandate - along with Draghi's monetary policy, could help the region recover when used together.

There has speculation about the size and scale of any such bond-buying scheme and stock markets have drifted higher in expectation of an announcement.

Sources told CNBC this week that the ECB is planning to announce a 50 billion euros ($58.3 billion) a month program. Others have said the program will be worth a total 500 billion euros.

World Bank President welcomes ECB QE
World Bank President welcomes ECB QE   

So far, the ECB has implemented rate cuts, provided cheap loans to banks and purchased covered bonds and asset backed securities in the hope of stimulating the euro zone economy. However, with consumer prices now falling in the region, the central bank has implied that it is ready to reveal even greater measures to try to boost inflation back to its target levels and provide a fillip for growth in the region.

However, a U.S. Federal Reserve-style program of sovereign bond purchases has faced tough opposition from Germany, which has already launched two court cases in an effort to stop the ECB from intervening in the bond markets.

However, Sigmar Gabriel, vice-chancellor and federal minister of economic affairs and energy of Germany, told a WEF panel that the country would still play a leading role in the euro zone's recovery.

"The task for Germany now today is, through its own policies, structural reforms, its own investments, to support the EU and the Commission when it brings on to the market, so to speak, its stability package" he said. "But every nation has to have the courage to broach such structural reforms and speak clearly about them without making people afraid. This is difficult."

'Poor man's monetary policy'

A number of Davos delegates weren't hugely optimistic on the rumors about a QE program emanating from Frankfurt, however.

Willem Buiter, Citi's chief economist, told CNBC that ECB QE would be a "poor man's monetary policy" and would do little to boost growth in the euro zone.

Draghi's expected announcement would probably be "enough to not disappoint markets, but probably not enough to get Europe out of its rut, he added.

While Julian Roberts, the CEO of Old Mutual, said on QE: "I don't think it'll make much difference at all." The low oil prices would be a far greater stimulant for the bloc, he added.

- By CNBC's Matt Clinch, Lawrence Delevingne and Arjun Kharpal