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Inflation Surprises

While it is still too early to tell if the ECB QE programme launched on March 9 will manage to bring back inflation towards the target in the medium t

Publishing date
20 April 2015

Euro area consumer price inflation, as measured by the HICP, continues to undershoot the ECB’s target of “close to, but below 2%”, currently at -0.1% in March. While it is still too early to tell if the ECB QE programme launched on March 9 will manage to bring back inflation towards the target in the medium term, a look at market- and survey-based inflation expectations data allows us to get a sense of how inflation expectations have been evolving in the last few months.

What the Market says

The chart below plots the HICP (in green), and market-based measures of average future inflation, based on zero-coupon swaps, which show the expectations over the periods from 1 to 10 years ahead.

The first observation is that market inflation expectations have been sliding continuously from 2012 to January 2015 (see the lines from blue to bright yellow), matching the sharp and steady collapse in headline HICP inflation that took place during that period, and prompting the ECB to act further and launch sovereign QE at its 22 January 2015 Governing Council meeting.


Source: Datastream, European Central Bank, Bruegel Calculations. Note: Market based inflation expectations refer to zero-coupon swaps over a time horizon of 1 to 10 years

However, since the beginning of February we can see some positive developments at the shorter horizons of 1 to about 5 years. This is shown by the upwards shifts in the dotted-lines, from lows of below zero at 1-year forward in January this year (light orange), up to nearly 1% as of last week (red). Even though inflation in the eurozone is still expected to miss its target in the next ten years (with expectations of inflation only averaging 1.4% from now to 2025), this is nevertheless a positive development and a welcome turnaround after the dis-anchoring of inflation expectations observed in the last couple of years.

What Forecasters say

This turnaround is also visible in the ECB’s Survey of Professional Forecasters. Its latest edition published last week shows a slight rebound, with two-year ahead inflation average expectations rising from 1.2% to 1.4%, while long term expectations seem to have stabilised at 1.8%.


Source: ECB SPF (Survey of Professional forecasters); Note: “Long-term” refers to inflation expectations 5 year ahead.

Another way to look at this survey is from the perspective of the distributions of forecasts. For the 2 year ahead forecasts, the share of higher forecasts has increased substantially in the new survey compared to the one published during the first quarter of 2015. There was also a noticeable narrowing of the variance of responses, suggesting a decrease of uncertainty concerning the inflation outlook for the next two years.


Source: ECB SPF and Bruegel calculations.

Why have inflation expectations increased lately?

It is difficult to disentangle the main reasons behind the recent increase in expectations, but 3 main explanations immediately come to mind: 1) the ECB QE programme, 2) the stabilisation of oil prices, 3) some positive data releases.

The charts below depicting the evolution of daily market inflation expectations can help us identify what could be driving the recent improvements.


Source: Datastream, Bruegel Calculations. Market based inflation expectations refer to zero-coupon swap rates over a 1 to 5 years period.


Source: Datastream, Bruegel Calculations. Market based inflation expectations refer to zero-coupon swap rates over a 1 to 5 years period.

The first possible event is an interview of Mario Draghi by the German newspaper Handelsblatt (2nd January, in which he suggested that the ECB was gearing up for an asset purchase programme) - this had  the mild effects of moving expectations up by 13.4, 7.6 and 1.8 basis points.

A change in direction of developments in oil prices (Brent Crude reached its trough on 13th January) contributed 5.0, 4.5 and 2.4 bps respectively.


Thirdly, it’s interesting to note that market measures of inflation expectations haven’t moved much at the QE announcement date. The 1-, 2-, and 5-year swap rates increased by 2.6, 5.4 and 8.5 basis points respectively. Of course, markets had been anticipating QE for a few months and were probably already pricing in some effect on inflation of the QE programme, so the absence of a large step-shift on the day of the announcement is not totally surprising.

Leading on from this, the actual implementation of the QE program did not steer swap rates much (-7.9, -5.3, 1.6)

More significantly, the two main drivers behind the upticks in the market measures, especially at shorter horizons, seem in fact to have been the releases of two inflation measures:

On 2nd March the HICP flash estimate for February came in higher-than-expected. The day-to-day change in expectations were 49.6, 29.7 and 15.6 bps respectively, an order of magnitude larger than any of the previous events studied. This idea of a positive inflation surprise is backed up by the responses of the economists participating in the Bloomberg survey who were predicting an even lower level of inflation in February (-0.4%) than what was actually observed (-0.3%).

The second surprise came in the positive producer price inflation data published by Eurostat on 7th April - again day-to-day changes were much larger than the other events - 49.9, 30.9, 14.9 bps respectively.


While the ECB QE programme and the stabilisation of oil prices are certainly playing a role in shaping inflation expectations on the upside, we find that the developments between December 2014 and April 2015 in market- and survey-based measures of future inflation are still mainly concentrated in the short-term and appear to come essentially from positive surprises in inflation data releases. Unsurprisingly, the surprise in inflation led to a change in inflation expectations. Whether the surprises in inflation data were themselves driven by improvements related to QE, and in particular to the recent euro exchange rate decline, or by other factors (e.g. more downward price stickiness than anticipated), remains for future research.



About the authors

  • Grégory Claeys

    Grégory Claeys, a French and Spanish citizen, joined Bruegel as a research fellow in February 2014, before being appointed senior fellow in April 2020.

    Grégory Claeys is currently on leave for public service, serving as Director of the Economics Department of France Stratégie, the think tank and policy planning institution of the French government, since November 2023.

    Grégory’s research interests include international macroeconomics and finance, central banking and European governance. From 2006 to 2009 Grégory worked as a macroeconomist in the Economic Research Department of the French bank Crédit Agricole. Prior to joining Bruegel he also conducted research in several capacities, including as a visiting researcher in the Financial Research Department of the Central Bank of Chile in Santiago, and in the Economic Department of the French Embassy in Chicago. Grégory is also an Associate Professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers in Paris where he is teaching macroeconomics in the Master of Finance. He previously taught undergraduate macroeconomics at Sciences Po in Paris.

    He holds a PhD in Economics from the European University Institute (Florence), an MSc in economics from Paris X University and an MSc in management from HEC (Paris).

    Grégory is fluent in English, French and Spanish.


  • Pia Hüttl

    Pia Hüttl is an Austrian citizen and joined Bruegel as an Affiliate Fellow in 2015. Her research interests include macroeconomics, financial economics and monetary policy as well as European political economy.

    Prior to this, Pia worked as Research Assistant for Bruegel, and as a Trainee in the Monetary Policy Division of the European Central Bank. Also, she worked as a Blue Book Stagiaire in the Monetary policy, Exchange rate policy of the euro area, ERM II and Euro adoption Unit in DG Ecfin of the European Commission.

    She holds a Bachelor's degree in European Economics and a Master's degree in International Economics from the University of Rome Tor Vergata. She also obtained a Master's degree in European Political Economy from the London School of Economics, with a thesis on Current Account imbalances in the Euro area and the role of financial integration.

    Pia is currently pursuing a PhD in Economics at the Humboldt University in Berlin.

    She is fluent in German, Italian and English, and has good notions of French.

    Declaration of interests 2015

    Declaration of interests 2016

    Declaration of interests 2017

  • Thomas Walsh

    Thomas Walsh, a British citizen, worked as a Research Assistant at Bruegel in the area of macroeconomics from August 2014 to August 2015.

    He holds a Master’s degree in Economics from the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics with a thesis entitled “The Credit Channel of Monetary Policy at the Zero Lower Bound: A FAVAR Approach”.

    He also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Econometrics from the University of Bristol.

    Previously, Thomas worked at the European Central Bank as a Trainee in the Statistics Development and Coordination division, working primarily with the ECB’s SME access to finance survey, SAFE.

    He has also held positions as Research Assistant at the Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow and as Intern at the Centre for Market and Public Organisation, University of Bristol.

    His research interests cover macroeconomics and finance, particularly monetary policy transmission and central bank decision making. Thomas speaks English, conversational Spanish, and basic German.

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