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ECB Maintains Status Quo, All Eyes On Draghi

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The European Central Bank left its interest rates and asset purchases unchanged and retained its downward bias on asset purchases, thus leaving it to its chief Mario Draghi to drop any hint on the future of its massive stimulus during his press conference set to begin shortly.

The Governing Council, led by ECB President Draghi, kept all its three interest rates unchanged for a twelfth consecutive policy session, on Thursday.

The main refi rate was held at a record low zero percent and the deposit rate at -0.40 percent. The marginal lending facility rate was kept at 0.25 percent.

"The Governing Council expects the key ECB interest rates to remain at their present levels for an extended period of time, and well past the horizon of the net asset purchases," the ECB said in a statement.

The bank also retained its monthly asset purchases of EUR 60 billion that are set to run till December 2017. The size was reduced in March from EUR 80 billion.

The current asset purchases "are intended to run until the end of December 2017, or beyond, if necessary, and in any case until the Governing Council sees a sustained adjustment in the path of inflation consistent with its inflation aim", the bank said.

"If the outlook becomes less favorable, or if financial conditions become inconsistent with further progress towards a sustained adjustment in the path of inflation, the Governing Council stands ready to increase the programme in terms of size and/or duration," the ECB added.

Focus is on Draghi's post-decision press conference that is set to begin at 8.30 am ET in Frankfurt, when he is expected to signal what lies ahead for the ECB's massive stimulus - a tapering announcement in October or further delay in exit, thanks to a strong euro.

Caution is likely to prevail at the press conference as a possibly dovish Draghi navigates the subtleties of central bank communication with his verbal intervention tool to avoid feeding markets with hopes of an imminent tapering that could further strengthen the euro and hurt the euro area recovery.

Economists widely expect an actual decision on tapering in October. They also expect that a modest tapering would only start in January after the end of the on-going round of asset purchases.

Draghi is set to unveil the latest ECB Staff macroeconomic projections during the press conference. Eurozone growth forecasts are likely to be raised further, while the inflation projections may come in for another trimming.

In the previous round in June, the bank projected euro area growth at 1.9 percent this year, 1.8 percent next year and 1.7 percent in 2019. Inflation projections were cut to 1.5 percent for this year, 1.3 percent next year and 1.6 percent in 2019.

ECB policymakers were already worried about a strengthening euro in July and pointed out the risk of the exchange rate overshooting in the future, the minutes of the policy session revealed. They also stressed that favorable financing conditions are still supported by the massive stimulus.

The euro has strengthened robustly since late June, when Draghi's comments in Sintra, Portugal, fed market expectations of an imminent tapering and sent yields and the euro soaring.

That said, a stronger euro could be reason enough for the ECB to delay its exit from the massive stimulus. Yet, the question remains - "For how long?"

Some analysts expect the ECB to entirely wind down its massive stimulus by the end of next year and start raising interest rates modestly in 2019.

by RTT Staff Writer

For comments and feedback: editorial@rttnews.com

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