Some Preliminary Thoughts on the ECB’s Capital Key

The ECB’s asset
purchase program is constrained by the self-imposed guidelines
As it QE continues, the ECB seems to be bumping against some of these parameters. 
The situation is thought to be coming to a head shortly, perhaps as early as
this week’s ECB meeting. 

One of the constraints is the country exposure
capped at a third of the sovereign debt. 
This limit may be reached for German in the first part of next
year.   Smaller countries may be nearer their limit. 

The ECB has already demonstrated its flexible
  It has added instruments, such as corporate bonds.  
It has increased the range of agency bonds it can buy.  The ECB also
allows negative yielding instruments to be
provided the yield is not lower than the minus 40 bp deposit

The broad principle determining the
Eurosystem’s allocation of purchases is the capital key.
  It is based on the contribution to the ECB’s capital
in the first place.  EU members, but not EMU members, such as the UK,
Sweden and several central and eastern European countries, also contributed to
the capitalization of the ECB.  

However, their shares are excluded in determining the allocation of purchases under EMU
The capital key is more or less a function of the size of the
country.  Germany is the largest.  It has an 18% overall weight in the capital key, but for ECB QE
purposes its shares rise to

Yesterday the ECB updated its QE purchases
  There continues to be a modest
deviation from the capital key.  In August, German purchases were about 3%
below what the capital key would have suggested,
and the Dutch purchases were about 4% below the capital key target.  However, this is not so problematic. 
August is a light month of purchases due to lighter volumes in any event. 
Rather than buy 60 bln euros of assets in August as it targets on average, it
only bought 43 bln.  

the deviation from the capital key did not begin last month.
assets have been under-bought according to the capital key since
March.   Portuguese and Irish assets were also under-bought relative
to the capital key.  If some bonds were under-bought, where there some
bonds that were over-bought?  It appears that French and Italian bonds are
being bought in excess of the capital key. Short time periods may be misleading,
but the holdings of French and Italian bonds are around 4%-5% above the capital key proportions (equivalent
to 13-14 bln euros each).

We do not think these deviations from the
capital key are the prelude to jettisoning this basic principle.
think it reflects a certain flexibility of the Eurosystem.  One element
that is not often discussed when
considering the ECB’s purchases is where the risk resides.  Mostly the
risk of the asset purchases sits with the
national central banks. This may not be
fully appreciated by investors.   The ECB holds a residual risk of about
8%.   To the extent that the sovereign bond purchases are deviating from
the capital key, it suggests that the
ECB’s risk, which is the shared risk (distributed by the terms of the capital

We wonder if some market participants are not
exaggerating the significance of the deviations from the capital key. 

The ECB has demonstrated a high degree of flexibility with the implementation
of its asset purchases.    We do not think the deviations are
thought to have been significant or a barrier to plans to extend the asset
purchases beyond the end of this year.  

We are convinced
the ECB will extend its purchases.
  One principle that seems inviolable is
that there cannot be a hard stop.  The purchases must be tapered.  We
are most confident that the purchases will be
into next year.  The key issues are when does the ECB make
the announcement and how much to taper.    We had been looking for an
announcement this week of the amount and duration of the extension. 
However, the flurry of comments suggests
that the ECB may look to push the announcement out until the next

How much will the ECB slow its purchases? 
A Reuters poll found most expect a cut to 40 bln euro from 60 bln euros. 
Since March the ECB slowed its purchases to 60 bln euros from 80 bln
euros.  However, and this is important, a cut to 40 bln euros for H1 18
would be a clear tell that its purchases
will continue into H2.    This
would be part of a dovish tapering.  We make the case that a cut to 30 bln
euros would give officials the flexibility to stop in the middle of next year if it chose.  A reduction to 30 bln
euros a month would also take more pressure off the shortage of securities and the capital key.  

News accounts, some from unnamed officials
have effectively lowered expectations for this week’s ECB meeting. 

The staff forecasts, especially if inflation forecast, is shaved, will allow
the Draghi to direct the relevant Eurosystem committees to explore the range of
options.  This exercise would buy officials some time.  The risk,
however, is that it paints itself into a corner and after this week there are
only two meets left in the year after
this week’s meeting.  

The mid-December meeting has the benefit for
new staff forecasts, but it may be too close to the end of the year and the end
of the current program to be of particular appeal to policymakers. 
That leaves the October 26 meeting as the only viable one after this week’s
meeting.  It is easy to imagine a scenario in which the US fails to make
progress on tax reform, softer US inflation dampens the chances of a December
Fed hike and by the time the ECB meets in late-October the euro is back above

The weakness of the US dollar is not the only factor driving up the euro.  The
euro has risen against nearly all of its trading partners this year, except for
the Sweden.  Since the start of the year the euro has appreciated 13%
against the US dollar, but 7% on a trade-weighted basis.  The euro’s
appreciation and the rise in interest rates more than offset the rise in
European equities.  The Dow Jones Stoxx 600 is up 3.6% this year, though
it is off about 5.6% since peaking in mid-May.  As we noted in an earlier
post, the correlation (60-day on the purely
directional move) has been inverted since
early July.   At -0.86, the inverse correlation is at its most extreme reading for the past

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