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Strait Outta Hormuz

Strait Outta Hormuz

The Strait of Hormuz these days seems to be what the streets of Compton used to be in the 90s. Yesterday, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said it has seized a “foreign vessel” for smuggling fuel. And this morning, news came in that the US has shot down an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz, after it allegedly threatened a US warship. About a fifth of global daily oil consumption (c. 21 million barrels) passes through the Strait each day. Moreover, tensions between the US and Iran are more likely to increase than not (don’t forget Iran also shot down a US drone last month). So don’t expect a smooth ride for oil prices this summer.

From the Strait of Hormuz, to back to Europe. According to Bloomberg sources, ECB staff is looking into potentially reforming its inflation target from “below, but close to 2%” to perhaps a policy band around 2%. Such a band would explicitly make the inflation target symmetric (something President Draghi favours), which means that the ECB can better signal willingness to overshoot the target for a short while. As such, it can reinforce inflation expectations if it is seen as a signal of more (or a prolonged period of) loose monetary policy. However, our ECB watcher Bas van Geffen cautions that the risk of such a symmetric band is that the market could also interpret the lower bound as ‘good enough’, especially if inflation keeps undershooting the ECB’s aim. Suppose the band is 0.5%. This implies the ECB might target an inflation rate of 2.5%, but it also implies that an inflation rate of 1.5% is within the ECB’s target band. Hooray, the ECB has achieved its inflation target by simply changing the definition of the target. What does that mean for its credibility? To avoid that situation, a symmetric band should probably be accompanied by more stimulus to rekindle inflation expectations.

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