É difícil ser banqueiro central por estes dias, sobretudo na Zona Euro. Uma boa parte do trabalho, como sabemos, é feito através da gestão de expectativas: conduzir a política monetária de modo a afectar aquilo que os agentes económicos acham que vão ser as condições financeiras de médio e longo prazo. Mas como é que se convence as pessoas de algo de que elas não queiram ser convencidas?
Em particular, o que pode fazer um banco central perante uma audiência que parece obcecada pela subida dos juros, ignorando todos os sinais que a tornam improvável e salivando de cada vez que aparece um pretexto para a justificar? Não há uma solução fácil. A opção, até agora, tem sido repetir o óbvio, na esperança de que martelando mais vezes a coisa acabe por entrar. Depois do primeiro esclarecimento, Draghi deixou hoje mais um.
Yet despite these signs of progress, it is clearly too soon to declare success. In important ways the outlook for price stability remains unchanged. In particular, while growth and employment rates have been converging upwards across the euro area, significant gaps still remain in terms of levels. In large parts of the euro area there are still substantial under-utilised resources, reflected in a negative output gap and high unemployment rates.
And this is of course crucial for our assessment of the path of inflation – namely, whether we see a sustained adjustment that would warrant a scaling back of our exceptional degree of monetary policy accommodation.
For us to be confident in the second criterion – that inflation is not just converging towards our aim, but stabilising around it – we would need to see signs of such pressures building. But there is so far scant evidence of this.
Much of the increase we have seen in headline inflation in recent months has been driven by its volatile components. Of the 1.4 percentage point rise from November last year to February this year – when inflation peaked at 2% – more than 90% was explained by energy and food price inflation. Measures of underlying inflationary dynamics, by contrast, remain subdued. One such measure, HICP excluding food and energy, has hovered around 0.9% since mid-2013 and still shows few convincing signs of an upward trend. Most alternative measures are also sluggish by historical standards and show little movement towards our aim.
An important source of subdued underlying inflation trends has been weak domestic price pressures, driven partly by subdued wage growth. Despite the domestic nature of the recovery, annual wage growth in terms of compensation per employee reached the historical low of 1.1% in the second quarter of 2016. Wage growth has since recovered somewhat – rising to 1.4% by the end of last year – but remains well below historical averages. This is where the issue of levels comes in – that is, the significant degree of labour market slack.
Draghi também toca num tópico importante, que já foi referido por Janet Yellen: a possibilidade de a própria capacidade produtiva potencial responder às condições de procura da economia. Mas em relação a isso não convém ser muito específico, porque as implicações de levar essa ideia a sério poderiam ser dramáticas:
Labour market slack will lessen as unemployment continues to fall, but it is unclear how quickly this will feed through into wage dynamics – especially if the experience of other advanced economies is instructive. A strengthening labour market may attract “marginally attached” workers back into the labour force, or encourage those “underemployed” to seek more hours, causing the effective supply of labour to rise in tandem with demand. Domestic wage pressures may therefore only materialise later in the economic expansion