Risks to price stability at the policy-relevant medium-term horizon remain clearly on the upside and have increased over the past few months. These risks include notably the possibility of further increases in energy and food prices and of increasing indirect effects on consumer prices. There is a very strong concern that price and wage-setting behaviour could add to inflationary pressures via broadly based second-round effects. The Governing Council is monitoring price-setting behaviour and wage negotiations in the euro area with particular attention. Furthermore, there are potential upside risks from unanticipated rises in indirect taxes and administered prices.
Against this background, it is imperative to ensure that medium to longer-term inflation expectations remain firmly anchored at levels in line with price stability. The shift in relative prices and the related transfer of income from commodity-importing countries to commodity-exporting countries require a change in the behaviour of companies and households. Therefore, broadly based second-round effects stemming from the impact of higher energy and food prices on price and wage-setting behaviour must be avoided. All parties concerned, in both the private and the public sector, must meet their responsibilities in this regard. In this context, the Governing Council has repeatedly expressed its concern about the existence of schemes in which nominal wages are indexed to consumer prices. Such schemes involve the risk of upward shocks in inflation leading to a wage-price spiral, which would be detrimental to employment and competitiveness in the countries concerned. The Governing Council therefore calls for such schemes to be avoided.
The monetary analysis confirms the prevailing upside risks to price stability at medium to longer-term horizons. In line with our monetary policy strategy, we take the view that the sustained underlying strength of monetary and credit expansion in the euro area over the past few years has created upside risks to price stability. Over recent quarters, these risks appear to have become manifest as inflation has trended upwards.
Not least in the face of the ongoing tensions in financial markets, the monetary analysis helps to support the necessary medium-term orientation of monetary policy by focusing attention on the upside risks to price stability prevailing at medium to longer horizons. While the growth of broad money and credit aggregates is now showing some signs of moderation, also reflecting the policy measures taken since 2005 to address upside risks to price stability, the strong underlying pace of monetary expansion points to continued risks to price stability over the medium term.
The current yield curve has led to very rapid increases in time deposits and to a substantial decline in annual M1 growth. Such effects and other temporary factors must be taken into account in assessing monetary developments. Overall, a broad-based analysis of the data, taking the appropriate medium-term perspective, confirms the underlying strength of money growth.
One of the main factors leading to this conclusion is the still high growth of MFI loans to the private sector, which is underpinning the robust nature of monetary growth. The pace, maturity and sectoral composition of bank borrowing suggest that, at the level of the euro area as a whole, the availability of bank credit has, as yet, not been significantly affected by the ongoing financial tensions. Higher short-term interest rates and housing market weakness in several parts of the euro area have dampened the growth of household borrowing over the past few years. By contrast, and notwithstanding tighter financing conditions and moderating economic growth, the expansion of bank credit to non-financial corporations thus far remains very robust.
To sum up, a cross-check of the outcome of the economic analysis with that of the monetary analysis clearly confirms the assessment of increasing upside risks to price stability over the medium term. Annual inflation rates are likely to remain well above levels consistent with price stability, and monetary aggregates continue to grow vigorously, with so far no signs of significant constraints on bank loan supply. The latest economic data point to a weakening of real GDP growth in mid-2008, which in part was expected after the exceptionally strong growth in the first quarter. Against this background, it remains crucial to avoid broadly based second-round effects in wage and price-setting. In full accordance with our mandate, we emphasize that maintaining price stability in the medium term is our primary objective and that it is our strong determination to keep medium and long-term inflation expectations firmly anchored in line with price stability, thereby preserving purchasing power in the medium term and supporting sustainable growth and employment in the euro area. On the basis of our assessment, the current monetary policy stance will contribute to achieving our objective. We will continue to monitor very closely all developments over the period ahead.
Regarding fiscal policy, there are risks that some countries will not achieve their fiscal targets this year. In this situation a rigorous implementation of budget plans and the avoidance of expenditure slippage are of crucial importance. Budget plans for 2009, which are currently being finalised in a number of countries, need to reflect European commitments. In particular, countries with still large deficits must provide ambitious and concrete deficit reduction plans, backed by clearly specified measures, preferably on the expenditure side. Where budgetary scope is available, automatic stabilisers can contribute to the smoothing of cyclical economic fluctuations.
As regards structural policies, measures which reduce adjustment costs and promote moderate unit labour cost growth are of the utmost importance, particularly in the current climate of high inflation and slowing real GDP growth. These include the removal of impediments to competition in the services sector in general, and at the various stages of the food supply chain in the retail and distribution sectors, as well as in the energy sector, more specifically. Equally, making labour markets more flexible and enhancing investment in education and training would foster productivity, thereby increasing the scope for increases in real incomes.
We are now at your disposal for questions.