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01 April 2019

ECB: Annual Report 2018

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The Annual Report describes the tasks and activities of the European System of Central Banks (ESCB) and reports on the Eurosystem’s monetary policy. The Annual Report includes the Annual Accounts of the ECB. These are also published as a separate document several weeks before the Annual Report.

While the economic expansion in the euro area continued in 2018, the economy experienced a loss of growth momentum. Growth decelerated from 2.5% in 2017 to 1.8% in 2018 as a series of headwinds emerged over the course of the year.

Headline inflation increased relative to the previous year, averaging 1.7% over 2018, although this mostly reflected higher energy prices. Measures of underlying inflation moved broadly sideways throughout the year. However, the outlook for domestic demand, the labour market and wage growth gave us confidence that inflation would continue to converge towards our objective over the medium term.

As a result, the Governing Council anticipated in June 2018 reducing the monthly pace of net purchases under the asset purchase programme (APP) to €15 billion from September and – subject to incoming data confirming its medium-term inflation outlook – ending net purchases in December. At the same time, the Governing Council communicated that it expected the key ECB interest rates to remain at their present levels at least through the summer of 2019 and in any case for as long as necessary to ensure that the evolution of inflation remained aligned with expectations of a sustained adjustment path.

In December, the Governing Council reviewed the economic outlook and concluded that the June assessment remained broadly accurate. On that basis, it ended net asset purchases under the APP and confirmed the enhanced forward guidance on the path of interest rates.

That stimulus would be provided by forward guidance on key interest rates, reinforced by reinvestments of the maturing principal payments of the sizeable stock of assets acquired under the APP. The Governing Council conveyed that such reinvestments would continue for an extended period of time past the date when key interest rates rise, and in any case for as long as necessary to maintain favourable liquidity conditions and an ample degree of monetary accommodation.

The Governing Council also confirmed that, in any event, it stood ready to adjust all of its instruments, as appropriate, to ensure that inflation continued to move towards our aim in a sustained manner.

The continued domestic recovery and micro- and macroprudential actions also helped support financial sector resilience in 2018. The aggregate Common Equity Tier 1 ratio of significant institutions reached 14.2% at the end of the third quarter of 2018. Outstanding non-performing loans (NPLs) declined by €94 billion in the first three quarters of 2018, and euro area significant institutions’ aggregate NPL ratio stood at 4.2%, down from 5.2% a year earlier.

Risk-taking in parts of the financial and real estate markets contributed to mild signs of overstretched valuations in some areas, with marked cross-country differences, while risks continued to grow in the non-bank financial sector. In this environment, macroprudential measures were implemented in euro area countries to mitigate systemic risks: during 2018 the ECB assessed 103 notifications of macroprudential policy decisions by national authorities.

The ECB continued to support the benchmark reform in the euro area, developing a new money market reference rate during 2018. The ECB published the methodology for the euro short-term rate (€STR) in June 2018 after it received broad support in two public consultations. The €STR is based on average daily volumes of approximately €32 billion as traded by around 32 banks. The private sector working group on euro risk-free rates recommended the €STR as the replacement for EONIA in September 2018. The €STR will be available in October 2019, following a period of thorough internal testing by the Eurosystem.

2018 also marked a significant step forward in euro payments. In November, the Eurosystem launched the TARGET Instant Payment Settlement (TIPS) service, which offers instant payments around the clock in less than ten seconds.

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