ECB to hold rates again, awaiting signs on inflation

The European Central Bank is expected to freeze interest rates again this week, with officials wary of starting to cut before they see more evidence that recent falls in inflation will be sustained.

After the ECB launched an unprecedented campaign of monetary tightening to tame runaway consumer prices, eurozone inflation has been slowing steadily from a peak of over 10 percent in late 2022.

It eased to 2.6 percent in February, according to preliminary figure, down from 2.8 percent in January, and not far off the ECB's two-percent target.

At the same time the outlook is bleak, with the eurozone narrowly dodging a technical recession in the second half of 2023, weighed down by a poor performance in its biggest economy, Germany.

While slowing inflation and a worsening economy should bolster arguments for rate cuts, inflation's downward path has been bumpy and officials remain worried about completing "the last mile" to the central bank's target.

The Frankfurt-based ECB's governing council is widely expected to hold the benchmark deposit rate steady at a record four percent for a fourth straight meeting on March 7.

The ECB "is in no rush", Ann-Katrin Petersen from BlackRock Investment Institute told AFP.

"It still considers its inflation fight unfinished."

Nevertheless, HSBC said that the "meeting will be closely watched by investors looking for any guidance on the timing of the first cut and the subsequent pace of easing."

Inflation in the 20-nation eurozone surged in 2022 when Russia's invasion of Ukraine sent food and energy costs soaring, with the situation compounded by pandemic-related supply chain woes.

While the shocks triggered by the Ukraine war have eased, concerns have shifted to...

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