Eurozone inflation falls more than expected to 2.4%

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Inflation in the eurozone has fallen far more than expected to 2.4 per cent in November, the slowest annual pace since July 2021, providing some relief to consumers and fuelling hopes that interest rates could soon be cut.

The sharp drop in the rate from 2.9 per cent a month earlier adds to tensions between investors who hope rates will be cut soon and central bankers seeking to keep borrowing costs high until the biggest surge in inflation for a generation has definitively been tamed.

Falling energy prices and lower growth in food and services prices were the main factors behind the slowdown in the harmonised index of consumer prices, according to data published on Thursday by Eurostat, the EU’s statistics arm.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected a more modest slowdown to 2.7 per cent. The drop in inflation has prompted investors to bring forward their bets of when the European Central Bank could start cutting its deposit rate as early as next April.

The yield on Germany’s rate-sensitive two-year bonds fell 5.5 basis points to 2.79 per cent, its lowest level for almost six months. The euro extended its recent losses, falling 0.5 per cent against the US dollar to $1.092.

But ECB president Christine Lagarde warned this week it was “not the time to start declaring victory” in the push to bring inflation down to 2 per cent.

The slowdown in eurozone price growth from its peak of 10.6 per cent a year ago is expected to offer some respite to consumers, with wages rising faster than prices, boosting purchasing power.

However, the cost of living remains almost 20 per cent higher than before the inflation surge started three years ago.

“Falling inflation and a stagnant economy could justify ECB cuts as soon as the first quarter of next year in our view,” said Matthew Landon, a strategist at JPMorgan Private Bank. “It is looking more and more likely that President Lagarde and co could lead the developed world into the next cutting cycle.”

But Lagarde said on Monday that while price pressures are expected to ease further, “headline inflation may rise again slightly in the coming months, mainly owing to some base effects” — a reference to an expected levelling off of energy prices.

The ECB chief added that wage pressures “remain strong” and had become “a key factor driving domestic inflation”.

The OECD also forecast on Wednesday that the ECB would not start cutting rates until 2025 because of persistent price pressures. 

Inflation within the eurozone still ranges widely, from 6.9 per cent in Slovakia to minus 0.7 per cent in Belgium for the year to November. Five out of the 20 countries that share the euro have inflation below the ECB’s 2 per cent target, including Italy and the Netherlands.

Energy prices in the bloc fell at close to a record rate of 11.5 per cent in October. Growth in the prices of food, alcohol and tobacco slowed to 6.9 per cent, decelerating from 7.4 per cent a month earlier and a peak of 15.5 per cent earlier this year. 

Core inflation, which excludes energy and food, slowed to 3.6 per cent, down from 4.2 per cent in October. This metric is closely watched by the ECB as a gauge of underlying price pressures. 

Unemployment remained at a record low of 6.5 per cent across the bloc in October, according to separate figures published on Thursday. However, the jobless rate increased in both Germany and Italy.

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