The logo of the European currency Euro standing in front of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt.
AFP/Getty Images
The logo of the European currency Euro standing in front of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt.

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Cash deposited by eurozone banks at the European Central Bank hit a record on Friday

800 banks took €529.5bn of three-year loans at 1%

Central bankers played down the significance of any spike in deposits

Oslo, Norway Financial Times —  

The amount of cash deposited by eurozone banks overnight at the European Central Bank hit a record on Friday, coming just two days after financial institutions took advantage of an offer of unlimited cheap loans.

Banks parked €776.9bn overnight on Thursday, up by nearly two-thirds from the previous day, as they opted for safety first rather than immediately deploying the cash.

Under the ECB’s longer-term refinancing operation, 800 banks took €529.5bn of three-year loans at 1 per cent. They earn just 0.25 per cent in the ECB’s deposit facility.

Central bankers play down the significance of any spike in deposits, saying that it is an automatic side-effect of the ECB increasing its balance sheet through the LTRO.

But if the figures were to persist without a rise in bank lending to the real economy, they would underline one of the frustrations of the ECB’s intervention for many policymakers: that banks have either been hoarding the cash or using it to buy securities such as government bonds rather than extending loans to companies.

Use of the ECB deposit facility jumped after the previous LTRO in December with banks placing about €450bn in late December, a level that they have roughly maintained ever since. Prior to that figure, the record was €384bn in June 2010.

Use of the ECB’s deposit facility has often been seen as a sign of market tension as banks could earn more in the interbank market but prefer the safety of parking their cash at the central bank.

But analysts have been divided over what the high use of the facility means, with some arguing that other factors such as bank deleveraging are at least partially behind the increase in deposits.

They also say that use of the facility was always likely to spike after the latest LTRO after so much new money was injected into the system. Economists estimated that about €310bn of the LTRO represented new demand with the rest made up by money from other refinancing operations being rolled over. The deposit facility rose by €300bn from Wednesday night to Thursday night.

Sovereign bond yields for Italy and Spain, which had fallen dramatically since the start of the year under the influence of the LTROs, rose modestly on Friday. Italy’s benchmark 10-year yields were up 6 basis points to 4.99 per cent while Spain’s rose 5bp to 4.90 per cent. The euro was down 0.6 per cent to $1.324.