By Steve Goldstein, MarketWatch
Analysts expect the European Central Bank to expand the capabilities of its €750 billion Pandemic Emergency Purchase Program when it meets on Thursday.
A breakdown released by the central bank on Tuesday showed it bought €235 billion ($263 billion) of assets through the end of May, with €103 billion of purchases in April and €116 billion in May.
So far, the ECB has focused nearly all of PEPP on government bonds. It purchased €186.6 billion of public-sector securities using the program.
It disproportionately bought Italian bonds relative to what’s called its capital key, with Spain and perhaps surprisingly Germany a winner, while France was the main loser, according to an analysis from Pictet Wealth Management strategist Frederik Ducrozet.
(The ECB’s capital key is each country’s share of the capital of the central bank, which is based on population and GDP.)
The ECB’s actions have helped to limit the spread between Italian bond yields and Germany’s.
The yield on the 10-year Italian government bond /zigman2/quotes/211347230/realtime BX:TMBMKIT-10Y 0.00% has dropped to 1.52% on Tuesday from 2.38% in the middle of March.
The yield on the 10-year German government bond /zigman2/quotes/211347112/realtime BX:TMBMKDE-10Y +9.75% , which has been negative for more than a year, was -0.41%.
The ECB also stepped into the commercial paper market, buying €35 billion of securities there, while it is only purchased €10.6 billion of corporate bonds.
Isabel Schnabel, an ECB executive board member, said in an interview with Perspektiven der Wirtschaftspolitik that the program helped to calm financial markets.
Ahead of the ECB move in March, equity prices /zigman2/quotes/210599654/delayed XX:SXXP +0.88% continued to fall, the spreads on government bonds widened noticeably and market liquidity dried up, she said. “You could observe the financial market data deteriorating by the second. The ensuing risks to growth, employment and price developments were considerable,” she said. “PEPP calmed the markets and contained fragmentation in the euro area.”