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ECB dials down stimulus one notch as expected

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The European Central Bank will slightly reduce its emergency bond purchases over the coming quarter, it said on Thursday, taking a token step towards unwinding the emergency economic aid that propped up the bloc during the pandemic.

The ECB will in the next three months buy bonds under its 1.85 trillion euro Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP) at a pace moderately lower than the 80 billion euros a month it bought over the previous two quarters.

“The Governing Council judges that favourable financing conditions can be maintained with a moderately lower pace of net asset purchases under the pandemic emergency purchase programme (PEPP) than in the previous two quarters, ” the ECB said in a statement.

But it added that it would buy bonds flexibly, according to market conditions, looking to prevent a tightening of financing conditions that is inconsistent with its inflation aim.

The emergency scheme, the ECB’s primary tool since the onset of the pandemic, remains set to be wound down next March at the earliest, the bank added, without any further hint on when and how it would recalibrate policy to accommodate for PEPP’s end.

The ECB has provided record support since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus last year but with growth and inflation rebounding, policymakers came under pressure in recent weeks to formally acknowledge that the worst of the crisis is over.

The ECB also did not signal any further withdrawal of support and even maintained its long-standing guidance that it will ramp up support further if it becomes necessary.

“The Governing Council stands ready to adjust all of its instruments, as appropriate, to ensure that inflation stabilises at its two per cent target over the medium term,” the ECB said.

It added that bond purchases under its Asset Purchase Programme (APP) will remain at 20 billion euros a month and its deposit rate, now at a record-low minus 0.5%, will remain at its current or lower level until it sees inflation hitting its 2% target well before the end of its projection horizon.

Photo: – The European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt Main, Germany. EPA-EFE/ARMANDO BABANI