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European markets in carnival mood after ECB’s QE promise

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Time to book that European holiday as the euro falls to a new 12-year low against the dollar.Photograph by Getty Images/Moment Open

Europe’s financial markets were in carnival mood Friday with both stock and bond markets rising across the board in the wake of the European Central Bank’s promise to pump over €1 trillion into the system to fight off deflation.

While debate is still raging over whether the ECB’s ‘quantitative easing’ will actually do the Eurozone economy any good, few seem in any doubt that it’s good for asset prices–although one asset, the euro itself, has fallen a massive 4% against the dollar since the announcement.

“Yesterday’s program was at the same time bigger, faster and more explicit than what had been promised before and what the market had come to expect,” gushed Deutsche Bank strategist Jim Reid in a note to clients. “This will be a good environment for European equities and European credit whether you like the fundamentals or not or whether you think it makes any difference to the economy longer-term.”

The biggest beneficiaries of the ECB’s largesse, as in the U.S. with the Fed, will be government bonds. They have gone through the roof since ECB President Mario Draghi opened his mouth yesterday, pushing yields to all-time lows (prices and yields move in opposite directions).

Take Spain, which less than three years ago was pushed into a bailout because its banking system had been destroyed by a construction bubble and its government couldn’t afford to bail it out. Despite a jobless rate still above 23%, and despite a clear lead in the polls for one of the region-wide batch of new left-wing parties determined to throw off the shackles of German-led ‘austerity’, the yield on Spain’s benchmark 10-year bond has fallen to 1.30% from 1.55% a day earlier. It had peaked near 7% in 2012.

Or take Germany, where yields are negative for all bonds which mature in less than six years, and where the 10-year bond now yields a record low of 0.38% (from 0.58% 24 hours earlier).

The effect is just as strong on the stock market, where the DJ Euro Stoxx 600 index is up 1.4% at its highest level since 2007. That’s mainly because the ECB’s announcement has pushed the euro to a new 12-year low of $1.1193 against the dollar, which will make Eurozone exports to the U.S. and China–the only major economies with the strength to absorb them–cheaper.

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The Draghi effect: the euro has lost over 4% against the dollar in 24 hours

 

“The safest bet for a positive QE impact seems to be through a weaker euro exchange rate,” said Carsten Brzeski, an analyst with ING Diba in Germany.

But the ECB’s action is also filtering through indirectly into other markets. Gold prices hit a five-month high Thursday on a revival of the feeling that QE is a debasement of so-called ‘fiat money’ created at the whim of central banks. It stands to gain more inflows from conservatively-minded investors in places like Germany, where the public (and most of its mainstream media) are intensely suspicious of QE–not least since the negative yield on safe investments like government bonds makes the zero yield on gold look attractive by comparison. Gold was off a touch from yesterday’s high at $1,295 a troy ounce by lunchtime in Europe though.