Euro zone bonds steady as investors look to ECB for stimulus clues

* Euro zone periphery govt bond yields tmsnrt.rs/2ii2Bqr

By Dhara Ranasinghe

LONDON, Sept 10 (Reuters) – Germany’s benchmark Bund yield held above two-week lows on Thursday, before a European Central Bank meeting that investors suspect could signal more stimulus given weak inflation and a strong euro.

Most 10-year bond yields in the euro area were little changed with calm in markets expected to prevail ahead of the ECB policy decision at 1145 GMT and news conference at 1230 GMT.

Having acted aggressively in recent months to protect the economy from the coronavirus shock, the ECB is not expected to take any major policy action.

But inflation has turned negative and a strong euro, which adds to downward pressure on prices, has raised concern about long-term price growth that could force the ECB to act again soon.

The euro has firmed 8% against the dollar since the spring and more than 4% against a basket of currencies weighted by the bloc’s foreign trade.

“I don’t think the move in the euro has been sufficiently big to be a real concern but it’s just against the backdrop of everything else that is happening that means it’s not particularly welcome news,” said Anatoli Annenkov, senior European economist at Societe Generale.

He expects the ECB’s emergency bond buying programme to be extended and expanded by a further 500 billion euros in October or December.

Germany’s 10-year bond yield was little changed on the day at -0.46%, holding above two-week lows hit the previous session around -0.51%.

Italian bond yields were broadly steady with the closely-watched Italian/German 10-year bond yield gap hovering at 153 basis points — almost 20 bps tighter than where it traded at the time of the ECB’s July meeting.

The ECB’s growth and inflation projections to be published later in the day will only show slight changes compared with the bank’s June forecasts, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.

Brian Coulton, chief economist Fitch Ratings said that the ECB’s aggressive policy action this year had helped boost inflation expectations and that deflation in the single-currency bloc should be avoided.

“While we don’t think they (the ECB) will hit their target, we do think they will manage to avoid outright deflation,” he told an online conference on Wednesday.

The ECB has undershot its near 2% inflation target for the past seven years.

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