Disinflation Competitiveness ECB objective Core inflation

Recent economic indicators are not very encouraging for those hoping that inflation in the euro area will soon return to the ECB's 2% target. Economic growth decelerated sharply in 2018 and the previous acceleration in inflation was completely reversed in the final months of the year. Core inflation has not yet picked up, although stronger wage increases would have justified hopes of such a development. However, the slowdown in consumer demand growth has probably prompted entrepreneurs to reduce their profit margins rather than increase prices.

Low inflation in the eurozone also reflects the adjustment process whereby peripheral euro area countries continue to make up for competitiveness losses that occurred before the euro debt crisis. This is still not complete and implies that their inflation rates should remain below that of Germany. Consequently, as long as German inflation remains below 2%, average eurozone inflation cannot really get close to 2%.

A stronger stimulation of the German economy, and in particular of German consumption, could accelerate the process by stimulating German inflation. But such a stimulus is unlikely. A significant acceleration of German inflation to above 2% is therefore also unlikely. As other large euro area countries will have to keep their inflation levels below German levels for a long time to come in order to restore their competitiveness, a return to average inflation in the euro area close to the ECB's 2% target is likely to be a very long-term effort.



Lieven Noppe

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