ECB Leaves QE, Forward Guidance Unchanged

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The central bank's quest to restore sustainable inflation of just under 2% has been complicated by data suggesting that the euro area's strongest growth in a decade may be faltering.

He said non-performing loans (NPLs), now 4.8 percent of all bank credit, no longer represented an immediate threat as lenders now have more capital to absorb possible losses.

Both the European Central Bank and the Washington-based International Monetary Fund have lifted their growth predictions for the eurozone to 2.4% in 2018.

Among the EA19, an annual drop in consumer prices was seen only in the Greek Cypriot administration, down 0.4 percent, as the lowest hikes in year-on-year inflation were seen in Greece (0.2 percent) and Ireland (0.5 percent), while the highest rises were seen in Estonia (2.9 percent), Slovakia, and Lithuania (both 2.5 percent).

No changes are expected in interest rates or monetary stimulus settings. The stimulus is set to run at least through September.

"Given the apparent softening of economic growth since the ECB's last meeting, it is no surprise that the Bank has chosen to keep its policy and forward guidance unchanged", Capital Economics economist Jennifer McKeown said.

They said a decision on future moves would likely be communicated in June or July, with September only an outside possibility as it was too close to the tentative end date of asset buys.

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But with the risk of a global trade war still looming, it may not decide until absolutely necessary, so retaining the flexibility to adjust policy.

Business confidence in the 19-country bloc has already taken a knock, most notably in export-focused Germany.

Draghi said that some causes could be temporary, such as weather, strikes or calendar effects like the timing of Easter.

"Regarding non-standard monetary policy measures, we confirm that our net asset purchases, at the current monthly pace of €30 billion, are meant to run until the end of September 2018, or beyond, if necessary", he said.

The ECB governing council at its meeting today decided that the interest rate on the main refinancing operations, the interest rates on the marginal lending facility and the deposit facility will remain unchanged at 0.00 per cent, 0.25 per cent and (-) 0.40 per cent respectively.

Economists polled by Reuters ahead of the meeting expected bond purchases to end this year after a short taper and to see the first rate increase in the second quarter of 2019.

While U.S. 10-year yields hit 3 percent this month for the first time since 2014, German yields - now around 0.61 percent - have barely edged up this year, suggesting that any European Central Bank normalisation will be extremely slow. However, frequent suggestions of underlying weak inflation have called that timeline into question.

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