Draghi hails 'solid' growth as European Central Bank keeps policy on hold

Draghi hails 'solid' growth as European Central Bank keeps policy on hold

This week's European Central Bank meeting comes as leaders of the eurozone's two biggest economies - France's Emmanuel Macron and Germany's Angela Merkel - visit Washington for talks with US President Donald Trump in a bid to end trade and geopolitical tensions.

This leaves the door open to ending lavish bond purchases by the close of the year.

The economy in the 19 countries that use the euro currency turned in strong growth of 2.5 percent previous year, the best in a decade. With the 19-country bloc´s economy expanding for 20 straight quarters and millions of new jobs created, the main debate among policymakers is about how quickly to withdraw stimulus and preserve European Central Bank firepower for the next downturn.

Policymakers will need to agree an end-date for the ECB's €2.55 trillion bond purchase programme, which has cut borrowing costs and kick-started growth, even if it has failed to lift inflation back to target.

The deposit rate, now the bank's primary interest rate tool, will remain at -0.4% while the main refinancing rate will be unchanged at 0%.

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The ECB kept rates at record lows and confirmed that quantitative easing bond purchases would continue at 30 billion euros ($36.5 billion) a month until at least end-September or until it saw a sustained adjustment in the path of inflation.

Economists polled by Reuters ahead of the meeting expected bond purchases to end this year after a short taper and to see the first rate increase in the second quarter of 2019.

Draghi told his press conference that while the economic effects of the current tensions so far did not appear to be substantial, it remained unclear what might be the fallout from any retaliation sparked by the US' protectionist stance. A spokesman for the Austrian central bank wasn't immediately available for comment. However, frequent suggestions of underlying weak inflation have called that timeline into question.

Annual inflation in the currency bloc rose to 1.3% in March, from 1.1% in February, according to data released last week.

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