ECB ready to 'take appropriate measures' on coronavirus

The fast-spreading outbreak has roiled financial markets and disrupted international travel and supply chains

The European Central Bank on Monday said it stood ready to take action as concerns grow about the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on the global economy.

The fast spreading outbreak has roiled financial markets and disrupted international travel and supply chains, fuelling fears that it will take a toll on economic growth this year.

"The coronavirus outbreak is a fast developing situation, which creates risks for the economic outlook and the functioning of financial markets," ECB chief Christine Lagarde said in a statement.

"We stand ready to take appropriate and targeted measures as necessary and commensurate with the underlying risks."

The ECB's governing council is due to hold its next monetary policy meeting in Frankfurt on March 12.

Some observers are sceptical that there is much the central bank can do given its already ultra-loose monetary policy.

The bank has in recent years rolled out unprecedented stimulus measures to bolster the eurozone economy and drive up stubbornly low inflation.

It has set interest rates at record low levels, offered cheap loans to banks and bought up more than 2.6 trillion euros ($2.9 billion) in corporate and government bonds.

Before the outbreak, the ECB had been widely expected to leave its monetary policy unchanged for a while.

Analysts have now suggested it could opt to cut its bank deposit rate deeper into negative territory, making it more expensive for banks to park their cash with the ECB in a bid to encourage lending, or it could ramp up its monthly bond purchases.

- GDP forecast lowered -

Others have said it could next week offer more generous terms under its "TLTRO" bank-lending scheme to encourage loans to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are vulnerable to trade upsets caused by the virus.

Frederik Ducrozet of Pictet Wealth Management tweeted that the ECB's statement "could be a first hint" at tweaks to the TLTRO scheme, possibly by offering "looser conditions targeted at SMEs".

The US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England have also indicated that they are ready to take action if the virus wreaks havoc on the world's economy.

The Bank of Japan has likewise sought to ease worries, saying in a rare statement earlier on Monday that it "will strive to provide ample liquidity and ensure stability in financial markets".

The novel coronavirus outbreak that started in China late last year has now killed more than 3,000 people and infected some 90,000 as it spreads around the globe.

The OECD on Monday lowered its global GDP forecast by half a percentage point to 2.4 percent, the lowest rate since the 2008-09 financial crisis.

That forecast assumes the virus outbreak fades this year, but a more severe outbreak "would weaken prospects considerably", the group of free-market economies said.

In export-driven Germany, Europe's top economy, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz recently said the government had the means to "launch a fiscal stimulus package" if the situation worsened.

The fast-spreading outbreak has roiled financial markets and disrupted international travel and supply chains