European Central Bank keeps interest rates, guidance unchanged

Euro May Fall as PMI Data Sets the Stage for Dovish ECB

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.

He said it could be that the exceptionally strong growth of past year is returning to a more normal pace and that the bank would have to study incoming data more.

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.

The bank also reiterated that its bond purchasing scheme would remain at its current monthly pace of €30bn until at least the end of September 2018, or until the council had seen a sustained change in inflation towards its target of almost two per cent.

Despite defending the course of inflation towards target Draghi also admitted there was no convincing upward trend in inflation, and that it was essentially just going sideways. The marginal lending facility rate is 0.25 percent.

If growth slows significantly, the central bank could face pressure to extend its 30 billion euros ($36 billion) in bond purchases. But with the risk of a global trade war still looming, it may not make a decision until absolutely necessary.

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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.

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

Interest rates on the main refinancing operations were unchanged at 0.00 percent, according to a statement from the ECB's Governing Council. That rate is minus 0.4 percent, meaning banks pay a penalty on the funds they deposit.

However, "the June meeting will be crunch time... the European Central Bank will have a better view on whether weak economic data were only a soft patch or the start of a downswing, and on whether inflation moving to 2.0 percent is still more wish than reality". Some, however, have started to flag risks of a delay.

At the opening remarks of his press conference, Draghi referred to the most talked about topic in the euro-zone: the signs of a slowdown.

A stronger single currency would also most likely cap already weak inflation in the euro zone - a persistent headache for the European Central Bank. However, frequent suggestions of underlying weak inflation have called that timeline into question. But a slew of recent data suggests the eurozone area has lost some of its momentum.

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