Draghi insists outlook is solid as European Central Bank skirts QE debate again

ECB president Mario Draghi

ECB president Mario Draghi

Economic growth in the euro zone has moderated but is expected to remain solid, while external threats including protectionism have become more prominent, ECB President Mario Draghi said on Thursday.

The ECB's interest rate on its main refinancing operations and the interest rates on the marginal lending facility and the deposit facility will remain unchanged at zero, 0.25 and -0.40 percent respectively.

"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.

Draghi is due to speak at a press conference at 1:30 p.m. London time (8:30 a.m. ET).

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Draghi dismissed the slow-down as of little outcome to the broader themes of regional growth and convergence with more normal levels of inflation in the medium-term - at or just below the ECB's target of 2.0%.

Lower interest rates and QE are created to pump cash through the financial system and into lending to firms and households - powering economic growth and inflation. The eurozone finished 2017 strongly with 2.4 percent growth, the best performance in a decade, buoyed by European Central Bank stimulus and a rise in global growth that increased trade.

The index has joined other indicators in losing some of the exuberance seen around the turn of the year, although the reading was above the 50-point mark that suggests economic expansion.

A decision on future moves is likely to 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, the sources said.

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Business sentiment has already taken a hit, particularly in export-focused Germany, and a full-fledged trade war could quickly hurt growth - a risk already highlighted by policymakers at the ECB's March meeting.

The main refi rate is now at a record low zero percent and the deposit rate at -0.40 percent.

No changes are expected in interest rates or monetary stimulus settings. The U.S. economy has moved ahead faster and the Fed's benchmark rate is now 1.5 percent, compared to zero for the European Central Bank.

Even without such shocks, the ECB has long fallen short of its central price stability objective: inflation of just less than 2.0%.

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Euro zone inflation is so weak that even after the creation of 9 million jobs since early 2013, measures of underlying price growth that strip out energy and food are barely rising. Although Draghi had an air of confidence, he stated that policymakers remained "cautious" regarding the fluctuating data from the first part of the year.

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