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The ECB’s Corporate Sector Purchase Program may conclude at the end of the year at the earliest, although it’s more likely that persistent economic weakness in the single-currency bloc could see it extended into 2018.
The ECB’s Corporate Sector Purchase Program may conclude at the end of the year at the earliest, although it’s more likely that persistent economic weakness in the single-currency bloc could see it extended into 2018.

EU Credit Investors May Face Uncertain Future

The ECB has purchased around €67 billion of corporate bonds under the scheme, implying average weekly purchases of €1.68 billion since the program began in June 2016

EU Credit Investors May Face Uncertain Future

The moment of truth for debt markets beckons. Given the extent to which monetary stimulus in Europe has helped to compress corporate bond spreads and flatten the credit curve, fears may grow over the coming months as to how investors will react to the end of the monetary backstop bid. That will depend on the speed of any reversal.
The Bank of England bought £7.4 billion ($9.2 billion) of corporate bonds in the five months through Feb. 22. The monetary authority says its 18-month, £10 billion Corporate Bond Purchase Scheme may end ahead of schedule, Bloomberg reported.
The ECB’s Corporate Sector Purchase Program, meanwhile, may conclude at the end of the year at the earliest, although it’s more likely that persistent economic weakness in the single-currency bloc could see it extended into 2018. The ECB has purchased around €67 billion ($71 billion) of corporate bonds under the scheme, it said in a Feb. 27 statement, implying average weekly purchases of €1.68 billion since the program began in June 2016.
The ramifications of diminishing monetary stimulus may be felt globally, since corporate credit markets in euros, dollars and pounds tend to move in lockstep.
Between January 2011 and February this year, for example, the positive correlation coefficient between investment-grade credit indexes in euros, dollars and pounds ranged from 0.87 to 0.98, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Historic Move?
The unwinding of quantitative easing will be historic—no central bank has tapered corporate bonds before. The Federal Reserve’s QE program focused on treasuries and mortgage bonds, but its unwinding may provide clues to how credit markets will react to shifts in monetary policies in Europe.
After the US central bank terminated QE1 in March 2010, for example, the option-adjusted spread for the Bloomberg Barclays EuroAgg Corporate Index jumped 70 basis points in April and May. When the Fed finished QE2 in June 2011, the spread more than doubled to 3.59% by the end of September that year from 1.65% on April 29, as valuations faltered without the implicit monetary backstop.
Muted credit market reaction to the tapering of QE3, when US officials announced they would unwind the purchasing program in a gradual manner, may provide food for thought for Europe’s central banks as they look to deliver market stability while fading out stimulus packages.

BoE Strategies
In the case of the Bank of England, there are at least three strategies it might adopt when it reaches its £10 billion target:
— It could simply stop its weekly purchases and hold the portfolio until the accumulated bonds mature. In this scenario, spreads may ease wider on the official removal of the backstop bid, but that may be accompanied by muted market reaction thereafter.
— The bank could halt weekly purchases and then indicate its intention to sell down its holdings. This would likely trigger the most negative knee-jerk reaction in credit markets given the prospect of increased supply.
— If the macro backdrop remains negative after the triggering of Article 50—the formal mechanism by which the UK government leaves the European Union—the central bank could decide to extend the program. Declaring a new target of, say, £15 billion in total would be the best solution for the market, fueling a fillip for risk appetite and further spread tightening across the asset class.
The ECB’s prolonged bond-buying program has met resistance in some countries, particularly Germany, after headline inflation levels have jumped on the back of higher oil prices. ECB President Mario Draghi said during the January press conference that officials would ignore transient gains as long as there are no convincing signs of an upward trend in underlying price pressures.
Some council members said that recent increases in energy prices haven’t yet led to indirect or second-round impacts on broader price growth. “Such effects might materialize with a considerable lag."

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