By John Geddie
LONDON (Reuters) - Investors are starting to price in a slim chance that the European Central Bank will raise interest rates next year for the first time since 2011, with bets reinforced by sharply rising inflation expectations on Thursday.
The ECB last raised its deposit rate <ECBDF=ECBF> in July 2011 but quickly reversed course when the euro debt crisis hit, cutting from 0.75 percent all the way to record lows below zero.
The last cut, to minus 0.40 percent, was in March this year. ECB head Mario Draghi signaled that would be the end of the road and most economists expect the central bank to keep rates at these levels for many years to support the bloc's recovery.
But one side-effect of Donald Trump's surprise U.S. election win has been a surge in expectations that his fiscal policy will help generate the kind of inflation global central banks have been struggling to nurture since the 2008 financial crash.
Some in markets appear to think that means the ECB may tighten monetary conditions sooner than expected, despite repeated pledges from policymakers to keep stimulus in place.
"In the past couple of months we have priced in the probability of further rate cuts and the market has now priced that out entirely, and one could even argue now that there is a very small probability of rates to go up in about a year's time," RBC strategist Peter Schaffrik said.
Schaffrik pointed to forward Eonia bank-to-bank lending rates dated for the ECB's meetings in the second half of next year, which rose to around minus 0.33 percent on Thursday, a touch above the overnight rate <EONIA=> of around minus 0.34.
This suggests a roughly 10 percent chance of a 10 basis point rise in the ECB's deposit rate by the end of the year. <ECBWATCH>
In another sign that investors think the path of interest rates could be at an important junction, one-year forward Eonia forward rates <EUREON1Y=TWEB> were trading above the overnight rate for the first time since just after the ECB launched its quantitative easing bond-buying scheme in early 2015.
Ben May, European economist at Oxford Economics said the rise in forward Eonia rates may be reflecting some chances of a rates rise but that they are also skewed by other technical factors like expectations for declining liqudity.
"It is very unlikely that the ECB would raise rates next year. Our baseline is that they won't raise rates until 2020," he said.
The ECB will decide on the future shape and duration of its bond-buying program in December. It is almost certain to extend purchases beyond its current March deadline, although there is uncertainty over whether it may reduce or 'taper' the monthly pace.
(Graphic by Nigel Stephenson; Editing by Catherine Evans)