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ECB Says Asmussen Didn't Aim to Give 'Extended Period' Guidance

Wednesday, 10 Jul 2013 | 2:05 AM ET
John Thys | AFP | Getty Images

The European Central Bank said on Tuesday its board member Joerg Asmussen had not intended to give any guidance on the exact length of time for which the bank expects to keep its interest rates at record lows.

Asmussen told Reuters Insider TVearlier on Tuesday the ECB's guidance on interest rates staying at record lows extended beyond 12 months.

"Mr Asmussen aimed to confirm the unanimous decision of the Governing Council on forward guidance that covered an 'extended period of time'," the ECB said in a statement.

"No guidance was given as to the exact length of this period of time and it was not Mr Asmussen's intention to do so."

Abandoning its traditional policy of never pre-committing on future rates, the ECB said last Thursday it would keep its interest rates at present or lower levels for an "extended period" - its first use of so-called forward guidance.

Asked what an extended period meant, Asmussen said: "(ECB President) Mario Draghi said in his press conference it is not six months, it's not 12, it goes beyond."

(Read More: ECB's Draghi Defends Interest Rate Guidance)

The ECB discussed cutting interest rates but in the end decided to leave them unchanged.

"All decisions last Thursday were taken with unanimity," Asmussen, a member of the six-member Executive Board that forms the nucleus of the ECB's policymaking Governing Council, told Reuters Insider TV in an interview.

Asked whether he would rule out the ECB announcing a new bumper long-term loans operation to banks, known as an LTRO, Asmussen said: "I would not rule out this ... we have a whole range of non-standard instruments that can be deployed if and when the need arises."

(Read More: Euro Slides as Draghi Commits to Low Rates)

"I'm not ruling out anything," he said when asked about another interest rate cut, though there was no need for further action as things stand.

"We are now driving exactly at the right speed. We would not have a foot on the brake and also not on the accelerator. This is given the data as we see them right now," he said.

The euro's losses against the dollar accelerated in response, pushing the single currency down to $1.2786, the lowest since early April.

The ECB's move last week to give guidance on its expectations for the course of monetary policy was driven by market volatility, which took hold after the U.S. Federal Reserve last month set out a plan to begin slowing its stimulus.

Draghi said on Monday it remained to be seen whether the unprecedented move would be sufficient.

Pressing For Banking Union

Asmussen said the ECB expected to take over its banking regulation role from September or October next year and wanted a fund to refloat or fold struggling banks also to be in place by that time.

"I would not say it's a pre-condition but it's clearly preferable that we have the single resolution mechanism operationally in place when the single supervisory mechanism starts," he said.

Otherwise the system would be half-baked at best.

(Read More: Portugal in Bond Market Warning as Politics Remain 'Shaky')

Asmussen said it was too early to talk about holes in banks' capital structures - talk of huge capital shortfalls at some was "just guesses" - as the ECB had not yet decided the methodology for an assessment it will conduct of banks it will supervise.

The European Commission, the EU executive, will outline its blueprint for an agency to close or salvage troubled banks on Wednesday - the second pillar of a so-called banking union, chiefly in the euro zone.

Asmussen expected the Commission to call for a single fund, financed by a levy on the banking industry, adding up to a "tough single resolution authority that will be able to act swiftly".

"I would expect that the ECB will be happy," he said.

However, it is unlikely that Berlin would accept the creation of a new agency in Brussels or elsewhere with powers to overrule its own national authorities on the sensitive issue of whether to save or close an ailing bank.

Berlin would also oppose any fund that requires it to pick up part of the bill if a bank in Spain, for example, ran aground.

Some EU policymakers hope its position will soften after national elections in September but Asmussen was unconvinced.

"Many people are waiting for the elections then hope, expect ... a change in the German position. This is not what I would expect," he said, adding that other countries such as the Netherlands, Finland, Slovakia and Estonia shared its doubts.

"It's easy to hide behind Germany... It's a group of countries, it's not only Germany," he said.

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Contact Europe: Economy

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