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Italy faceoff is not expected to derail the European Central Bank's message to markets

Key Points
  • The European Central Bank is not expected to make many changes at its Governing Council meeting this week.
  • ECB President Mario Draghi is yet to confirm whether the bank will end its quantitative easing program at the end of 2018.
  • The focus at Thursday's meeting will be on assessing global risks.
Italy faceoff not expected to derail the ECB's message to markets

The European Central Bank (ECB) is not expected to change much at its Governing Council meeting this week, despite a clear resurgence of risks for the euro zone.

The central bank will announce a rate decision Thursday with a subsequent press conference from President Mario Draghi. But it's unlikely to alter its communication strategy let alone its policy stance. Despite concerns over Italy and Brexit, as well as a clear tightening of financial conditions in the U.S. which could eventually spill over into Europe.

"The current 'risk-off' mode in financial markets, developments in Italy and a rising risk of a hard Brexit provide plenty of reasons to sound a more cautionary note," said Dirk Schumacher, an ECB watcher with Natixis, in a research note.

"That said, financial conditions have only tightened moderately so far. Hence, we would expect only small tweaks in the language to reflect the rising uncertainty," he added.

Draghi is still yet to confirm that the ECB will definitely end its quantitative easing program at the end of this year. This is a large bond-buying program that was brought in after the 2011 sovereign debt crisis to stimulate inflation and boost lending.

Italy is exposed to a recession, strategist says

"The ECB seems determined to end its net asset purchases — almost no matter what," said Florian Hense, an economist with Berenberg in London.

"If the data would turn considerably worse between now and the December 13 (ECB) meeting, the ECB would probably adjust its interest rate guidance rather than extending its net asset purchases," Hense added, meaning it would refrain from extending its bond buying and rather opt for slowing down the amount of interest rate hikes it predicts for the future.

The focus Thursday will be on its current assessment of global risks and whether this translates into a change in wording for the ECB's written communication. The biggest dovish surprise and change in wording, which is expected by some economists, is a reassessment of the outlook from currently being "broadly balanced" to "tilted to the downside."

Meanwhile, the budget standoff in Italy will be a topic for discussion at the press conference, with Draghi expected to stress that it's not the ECB's job to help individual governments. Another topic should be the ongoing Brexit cliffhanger and whether higher interest rates from the U.S. Federal Reserve will lead to an unwanted tightening in the euro zone.

Italian risk will be contained, RBC strategist says