Here's what Draghi meant when he said the ECB would "cope"

Even the ECB is getting creative now.

At today’s  European Central Bank post-meeting news conference, we discovered that ECB President Draghi and his fellow Governing Council members are pulling on their walking boots for a trip into unexplored territory namely, negative interest rates.

We all dozed through his opening, oft-repeated remark that the ECB, "stands ready to act", (if economic developments so-demand), but then, much more significantly, he repeated the phrase in response to a journalist’s question about whether the ECB would ever consider taking the Deposit Rate negative-that counts as a hint in my book, the markets seemed to agree, and everyone sat up in their seats to listen with rapt attention as he pushed home the hint by saying the ECB would "cope" with any unintended consequences of negative interest rates. That removed the last obstacle-hitherto, the ECB’s response to negative rate speculation has always been to refer to such fears. He also repeatedly emphasised the extent to which the Governing Council feels the transmission mechanism from low ECB policy rates to increased and cheaper lending to real people and businesses had healed itself, even in the Periphery, i.e. therefore, conventional policy tools are once again back in play and potentially efficacious.

I was also impressed by the way he didn’t repeat his usual mantra about not pre-committing to interest rate moves-he usually leaps down anybody’s throat if they’re silly enough to try and get him to do that!

Here’s what he meant when he said the ECB would "cope" with any nasty side effects of negative policy rates. The most frequently sighted potential undesirable consequence is an inability on the part of banks to fund themselves adequately, because Money Market Funds will be unwilling or statutorily unable to lend to banks at negative interest rates, for fear of "breaking the buck" in terms of their redemption prices to investors. So, the story goes, banks will become illiquid. Again.

However, the ECB has already proved to us all that liquidity is its party piece-witness its  Long Term Refinancing Operations and Outright Monetary Transactions, (well, witness the latter’s description at least, since it’s yet to be used in practice). Liquidity is what the ECB feels it’s there for, and what its mandate allows, as opposed to anything that smacks of the provision of deficit funding to governments.

This is what Draghi meant when he said the ECB would "cope". Even as he spoke, the ECB’s boffins were no doubt crafting some new, diabolically clever liquidity scheme.

The psychological effects of actually paying money every day to deposit money at the ECB would have quite a dramatic effect upon banks-more than that to be expected from a cut of only 0.25 per cent, and not only would this small move down in interest rates have an amplified effect upon banks’ willingness to lend, it will also lead the man in the street to think again before putting his money on deposit. Why not go and spend it-surely all these weird experiments  monetary policy must lead to inflation at some stage, so maybe better to buy that car now, before it costs more next year?

And if it works for the ECB, why not for the Bank of England and its incoming and undoubtedly imaginative new Guv’, Mark Carney? His defeated  Deputy, Paul Tucker, has already floated the concept.

Photograph: Getty Images

Chairman of  Saxo Capital Markets Board

An Honours Graduate from Oxford University, Nick Beecroft has over 30 years of international trading experience within the financial industry, including senior Global Markets roles at Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank and Citibank. Nick was a member of the Bank of England's Foreign Exchange Joint Standing Committee.

More of his work can be found here.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

0800 7318496