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Biggest private fund in Finland says QE kills price signals

Monday, January 26, 2015 - 18:13
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Finland's biggest private investor with US$45 billion under management said asset purchases by the European Central Bank are undermining investors' ability to price bonds.

[HELSINKI] Finland's biggest private investor with US$45 billion under management said asset purchases by the European Central Bank are undermining investors' ability to price bonds.

"The value of market signals has in practice plummeted," Risto Murto, chief executive officer of Varma Mutual Pension Insurance Co, said in an interview in Helsinki on Friday.

"The role of market forces is going to be particularly small in the near future."

The ECB plans to spend at least 1.1 trillion euros (US$1.2 trillion) buying assets, including government bonds, to put more cash into circulation and stave off deflation. Even before the quantitative easing program was announced, yields across Europe hit record lows with 10-year government bonds from Italy and Spain yielding less than similar-maturity US Treasury debt.

Outside Europe, the ECB program also buoyed asset prices.

"Markets in the US learned that QE is good for stocks," Mr Murto said. "We'll have to remember that the impact in Europe is likely to be smaller because of financial market structures and the timing."

Because European companies rely less on bonds for funding than their US counterparts, "we can't look to the US to gauge the size of the impact," he said.

The ECB has tried dispel concerns its actions are distorting prices with President Mario Draghi saying on Thursday the bank will seek to ensure it "will allow proper market price formation" on government debt. Buying will be limited to 25 per cent of any single security, and 33 per cent of the instruments available from one issuer.

Meanwhile, the ECB's purchase program is buoying top-rated sovereign bonds. AAA-rated Germany's 10-year yields were little changed at 0.36 per cent after falling to 0.337 per cent, their lowest level since Bloomberg began collecting the data in 1989.

The ECB measures may also delay monetary tightening in the US as a weaker euro puts pressure on American exports.

"It's likely that this will limit the Fed's room to maneuver as two other key areas, Japan and the euro area, have zero rate policies for an extended period of time," Mr Murto said.

BLOOMBERG