5 Jun 2014

Can a negative charge zap eurozone economies into life?

Welcome to Europe.

The French economy is flatlining; the economies of Italy, Holland and Portugal are actually shrinking.

But that’s not the only problem. Producer prices are falling, inflation’s barely there – and that’s a worry.

The danger is that when some prices start falling, people delay buying things expecting them to fall some more. And that’s why deflation is called a spiral, a spiral that is best avoided.

After every financial crash there’s a danger of stagnation, deflation and depression. Europe had to look that danger squarely in the face, and act.

So enter Mario Draghi, boss of the European Central Bank, to press the closest thing to a panic button that a central banker has. Negative interest rates.

Europe’s key deposit rate is now -0.1 per cent. Mr Draghi says they will offer £400bn of cheap loans to banks, to encourage them to lend to business. On top of that they will prepare the way to start printing money – quantitative easing – just like the Brits, Americans and Japanese have done.

So will it work? With money almost free to borrow and costly to save, it should do.

But the two big dynamos – France and Germany – are not functioning. And at the edges – in Greece, and Spain – there’s huge social friction.

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