Resignation Deals a Blow to ECB

Exiting chief economist Stark opposed bank’s purchases of Italian, Spanish bonds

Juergen Stark resigned from the European Central Bank’s Executive Board after protesting the bank’s bond purchases on a conference call earlier this week, said a euro-area central bank official familiar with the meeting.

During the Sept. 4 call, Stark, 63, expressed his strong opposition to the program, which was expanded last month when the ECB started buying Italian and Spanish bonds, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions are confidential. Stark was supported by the central banks of Austria and the Netherlands, the person said. The resignation of Stark, the ECB’s chief economist, is a blow to the bank, the official said, noting he is the second German ECB member after Axel Weber to leave over the bond program.

Stark’s resignation, less than two months before President Jean-Claude Trichet’s term ends, suggests policy makers are increasingly split over the best way to fight Europe’s debt crisis. The ECB’s bond purchases have also been opposed by Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann and his predecessor Weber, who earlier this year pulled out of the running to succeed Trichet.

“There is quite a severe row going on,” said Juergen Michels, chief euro-region economist at Citigroup Inc. in London. “It seems that it went too far.”

Personal Reasons’
The euro extended its decline after news of Stark’s possible resignation was first published. It traded at $1.3662 at 5:37 p.m. in Frankfurt, down 1.6 percent on the day.

Stark today informed Trichet that, “for personal reasons, he will resign from his position,” the Frankfurt-based ECB said in a statement. “Stark will stay on in his current position until a successor is appointed, which, according to the appointment procedure, will be by the end of this year.”

The German government will nominate Deputy Finance Minister Joerg Asmussen to replace Stark on the ECB’s six-member board, Germany’s N-TV reported, without saying where it got the information.

The ECB, which started its bond program in May last year when Greece’s fiscal crisis began to spread to other euro-area countries, has so far spent 129 billion euros ($176 billion) on the bonds of distressed governments in an attempt to lower their yields. While the ECB says it is trying to ensure the transmission of its interest rates, Stark told Bloomberg News on Aug. 18 that the purchases blur the line between monetary and fiscal policy.

No ‘Glowing Advocate’
“It’s generally known that I’m not a glowing advocate of these purchases,” Stark said. “I see the rationale. Our accommodative monetary policy isn’t being transmitted in certain regions. So it’s justifiable from a policy point of view. But there’s an important point -- we are also reducing interest rates for the sovereign. That’s where the problem is.”

Stark’s eight-year term was due to end on May 31, 2014. When he and Trichet depart, half of the ECB’s board will be new. Belgium’s Peter Praet joined in June. Bank of Italy Governor Mario Draghi will take the ECB’s helm on Nov. 1.

Trichet yesterday said the central bank has cut its growth forecasts for this year and next and reduced its assessment of inflation risks, opening the door for further stimulus measures. Stark is one of the ECB’s most ardent inflation fighters.

“Things do not look too good from outside, with a second German leaving the Governing Council to openly criticize the ECB after Weber,” said Laurent Bilke, a former ECB economist now working at Nomura International in London. “Good luck to Mario Draghi.”

 Bloomberg News


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