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ECB warns of financial turbulence as rising populism adds to risks

The European Central Bank (ECB) headquarters are pictured in Frankfurt, Germany, September 3, 2015.  REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski/File Photo



The European Central Bank (ECB) warned that risks of financial-market turmoil have increased amid slower growth in emerging economies, weak bank profitability and the rise of populist movements across the 19-nation euro region.
“A sharper-than-expected
fall in Chinese growth could
well lead to a synchronized downturn across other emerging market economies, particularly commodity exporting economies,” the ECB wrote in its twice-yearly Financial Stability Review published on Tuesday. “Under such a scenario, the financial systems of advanced economies may be challenged by a reduction in consumer and business confidence, and renewed financial-market volatility potentially intensified by sudden stops in or reversals of cross-border capital flows.”
Following an oil slump, the Frankfurt-based central bank has deployed an array of unconventional stimulus to support a cyclical recovery in the euro area and jolt prices out of the deflation-risk zone. The measures — which include negative rates, asset purchases and cheap credit to banks — have been criticized for eroding banks’ profits and fueling the risk of asset bubbles.
ECB Vice President Vitor Constancio acknowledged that the institution’s negative-rate policy has limits. There are levels that “would then lead to a preference for cash, and the policy would then not be efficient any more and create other problems” but “we are still very far away from that,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. While officials can’t ignore the impact of sub-zero rates on bank profitability, “the overall effect of our policy has been positive,” he said.
In its report, the ECB highlighted the low profitability of financial institutions and emerging-market weakness as “medium-level systemic risks.” Higher political uncertainty amid the success of populist parties that want to stop or even reverse structural reforms in the euro area has also been added as a “potential” risk.“Rising political risks at both the national and supranational levels, as well as the increasing support for political forces which are seen to be less reform-oriented, may potentially lead to the delay of much needed fiscal and structural reforms,” the report said. “This, in turn, may cause renewed pressure on more vulnerable sovereigns and potentially contribute to contagion and re-fragmentation in the euro area.”
Presidential elections in the US and the planned referendum in the U.K. on its membership in the European Union could hurt business and consumer confidence, and thus economic growth, the ECB said.
Constancio said “banks are aware of the risks” related to Brexit. “Judging by the amounts of exposure we identified out there, banks will be resilient to such an hypothesis that nevertheless, if it happens, will have for a while a negative impact,” he said.

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