ECB says ultra-low rate benchmarks to remain in force

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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Facing unease over the spread of a more-contagious variant of the coronavirus, the European Central Bank said it would maintain its stimulus in the form of ultra-low interest rates until inflation “durably” reaches its 2% target.

The ECB said it would not back off its efforts to support the economy even if that resulted in a “transitory” period of inflation moderately above target.

The bank’s policy meeting Thursday was the first to employ the bank’s new monetary policy strategy that analysts say would permit the bank to employ stimulus for longer periods. The strategy abandoned the bank’s old inflation target of “close to but below” 2% in favor of a “symmetric” 2% target that allows for extended stimulus in times of trouble — even if that means briefly overshooting the inflation target.

The bank otherwise left its key rates and stimulus programs unchanged.

The bank is purchasing 1.85 trillion euros in government and corporate bonds to help get the 19-country eurozone economy through the disruption caused by the pandemic. The purchases pump newly created money into the economy and help keep longer-term borrowing rates low. The idea is to make sure credit is easily available so companies can get the financing they need to keep going.

The bank’s key interest rate benchmarks affecting short-term rates are at record lows. It lends to banks at zero percent, and takes overnight deposits from banks at minus 0.5%, in effect taxing them for holding onto the money instead of lending it.

Right now concerns focus on the spread of the more-contagious Delta variant, which has seen case numbers rise sharply in a number of countries. In Europe, case numbers are low but rising in Germany, the eurozone’s biggest economy. The seven-day case rate has doubled in just 12 days; 48% of the population has been fully vaccinated but the pace of vaccination has slowed.

Economists say the fact that more people are now vaccinated may blunt the economic impact of the Delta variant. But it could slow the recovery if it leads to unexpected new restrictions and makes consumers more cautious.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex said Wednesday that his country was facing a “fourth wave” of the pandemic with cases rising sharply among unvaccinated people.

Read More:ECB says ultra-low rate benchmarks to remain in force

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