European Central Bank leaves key rates on hold as expected

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The main refinancing rate, which determines the cost of credit in the economy, remained unchanged at 0.00 percent while the rate on the marginal lending facility - the emergency overnight borrowing rate for banks - remains at 0.25 percent.

With the euro zone economy expanding for 20 straight quarters, policymakers are now debating how and when to curb stimulus further, hoping that a rapid, jobs-rich expansion will eventually lift inflation back to its near 2 percent target.

- Global economic activity indicators over the past few weeks have continued to point overall to more synchronised global growth and we continue to see the prospect of central banks moving away from incredibly loose monetary policy stances.

Mr Draghi said risks surrounding the euro area growth outlook remained broadly balanced but that "risks related to global factors, including the threat of increased protectionism, have become more prominent".

The ECB president is not expected to offer any clues about when the bank will end its stimulus program, under which it purchases 30 billion euros ($37 billion) of bonds per month.

"The economy has shifted down a gear at the start of this year", Commerzbank analyst Christoph Weil commented, but "there is no need to fear a massive plunge in economic growth".

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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".

Among the EA19, an annual drop in consumer prices was seen only in the Greek Cypriot administration, down 0.4 percent, as the lowest hikes in year-on-year inflation were seen in Greece (0.2 percent) and Ireland (0.5 percent), while the highest rises were seen in Estonia (2.9 percent), Slovakia, and Lithuania (both 2.5 percent).

One worry is that protectionist rhetoric from the United States could push down the value of the dollar, an economic anomaly as the Federal Reserve is likely to raise interest rates several times this year, a natural support for its currency.

A stronger euro would cap inflation, but would affect growth and exports. 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. However, frequent suggestions of underlying weak inflation have called that timeline into question.

This suggests the euro zone's economic downturn was more severe than earlier thought and makes the recovery even more protracted.

This confident message sent the EUR/USD to the highs of the day below $1.2200, but markets remain cautious.

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