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POLITICS: PennAve

Europeans ramp up stimulus

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Politics,Finance and Banking,PennAve,Joseph Lawler,Economy,Federal Reserve,Inflation,Financial Markets,Europe,Interest Rates

Europe is pushing ahead with efforts to avoid a recession using unconventional monetary policy.

The European Central Bank announced several measures intended to boost monetary stimulus for the euro area Thursday morning, in an increasingly ambitious effort to prevent Europe from succumbing to a triple-dip recession.

The ECB announced that it would cut its targets for interest rates, lowering its main target to just 0.05 percent and pushing the interest rate it pays on excess bank liquidity even further into negative territory, to -0.2 percent. It also stated its intentions to buy asset-backed securities starting in October, in large-enough scale to have a "sizeable impact" on the bank's balance sheet.

Speaking at a press conference in Frankfurt, ECB President Mario Draghi said the central bank's governing council was "unanimous in its commitment to using additional unconventional instruments within its mandate" if they became necessary to prevent inflation from falling too low.

Over the course of the past few years, euro area inflation has slowed to near zero in August as the economy has stalled, failing to grow in the second quarter. European unemployment remains extremely high, at 11.5 percent in July.

Draghi warned that the banks continues to see the "risks surrounding the economic outlook for the euro area on the downside."

The ECB first lowered interest rates below zero in June, an unprecedented step for a major central bank.

But the bank so far has stopped short of the major bond-buying programs of the kind that the Federal Reserve has undertaken to spur growth. The asset purchases announced Thursday, Draghi said, were meant to reinforce the bank's commitment to low interest rates and ease credit flows, rather than directly stimulate the economy as the Fed's purchases were meant to do.

Draghi said quantitative easing measures were discussed at the bank's meeting. But he said interest rates were now as low as they could go, and said European governments needed to accelerate "structural reforms" — such as consolidating their budgets and enacting labor market reforms — to boost economic growth and employment.

The ECB projects the euro area economy to grow at 0.9 percent in 2014, accelerating to 1.6 percent in 2015.

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