Eurozone inflation falls, bolstering hopes of a lower ECB hike

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Euro zone inflation fell much more than expected in November, raising hopes that price growth has passed its peak and bolstering arguments for a slowdown in European Central Bank rate hikes next month.

Consumer prices in the 19 countries that share the euro rose 10.0 percent this month, after rising 10.6 percent in October, well below expectations of 10.4 percent in a Reuters poll of analysts.

However, the overall picture is more nuanced, with energy prices accounting for most of the slowdown, while food price inflation, a major concern, continued to accelerate, Eurostat data showed on Wednesday.

With inflation more than five times higher than its 2% target, the ECB has raised interest rates at the fastest pace on record this year, and a series of hikes remain likely in the coming months as price growth takes years to be brought under control.

However, after two consecutive hikes of 75 basis points, some monetary leaders have advocated a 50 basis point hike on 15 December, arguing that inflation is finally peaking and that the ECB has made enough progress to justify smaller measures.

While the moderation in the hike, which is the euro zone’s first in more than a year, bolsters the case for more measured ECB action next month, Wednesday’s data could also fuel fears that inflation will be more persistent than expected.

Core price growth, excluding volatile food and energy prices, remained high, likely triggering warnings from central bank conservatives, while food price growth, one of governments’ main concerns, shows little sign of peaking.

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Excluding food and fuel costs, inflation rose to 6.6% from 6.4%, contradicting expectations of decline, while an even more limited measure also excluding alcohol and tobacco held steady at 5.0%.

Inflation of processed foods, alcohol and tobacco, a key category, accelerated to 13.6% from 12.4%.

Another complication is that economic growth is not suffering as much as some had anticipated, so the deflationary impact of an impending winter recession will likely be more limited than previously thought.

Inflation, initially fuelled by supply bottlenecks in the post-pandemic reopening, is now driven by rising food prices after a poor harvest and skyrocketing energy costs as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

It is likely to rise again in the coming months, particularly at the end of the year when energy contracts revalue, but it is likely to decline by 2023 and return to around 2% by the end of 2024.

Such a rapid decline is historically unprecedented, some monetary leaders warn, suggesting November’s mild moderation is unlikely to change the course of rates over the tightening cycle.

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