ECB leaves rates and bond buying unchanged despite inflation uptick

The European Central Bank decided Thursday to keep interest rates unchanged as market players look for clues on whether the central bank will soon lift its massive pandemic-era stimulus.

“The Governing Council expects the key ECB interest rates to remain at their present or lower levels until it has seen the inflation outlook robustly converge to a level sufficiently close to, but below, 2% within its projection horizon, and such convergence has been consistently reflected in underlying inflation dynamics,” the bank said in a statement after its policy decision.

Recent data has shown an overshoot in inflation for the 19-member area that shares the euro, to above the ECB’s target of close to but below 2%. The ECB had previously said it was expecting prices to pick up in 2021, but only temporarily.

Market players therefore want answers on how long the central bank will keep up its vast monetary stimulus. It has committed to purchasing 1.85 trillion euros ($2.2 trillion) of bonds until March 2022 as part of its Pandemic Emergency Purchase Program (PEPP).

“The ECB clearly wants to avoid any taper talk and therefore chose to stay put,” Carsten Brzeski, global head of macro at ING Germany, said in a note. However, the issue is still dividing the analyst community.

“The Bank is still likely to engineer a very gradual taper in the second half of this year, but the big picture is that policy will remain highly accommodative for a long time to come,” Andrew Kenningham, chief Europe economist at Capital Economics, said in a note.

The euro held at $1.21 against the U.S. dollar after the decision was announced Thursday. ECB President Christine Lagarde is due to speak at 1.30 p.m. UK time.

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