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Mr Muscle? Bazooka? Draghi fails to answer critics

The raft of stimulus measures launched by Mario Draghi, President of European Central Bank, sent markets fluctuating wildly on Thursday but, since then, has left critics still wanting more -- and questioning whether the actions will actually help the real euro zone economy.

As the afternoon progressed in Europe and Draghi painstakingly detailed each individual measure to a packed press conference in Frankfurt, it didn't take long for doubt to creep into the minds of some economists. Could Draghi's long-promised "bazooka" to ward off the threat of deflation and add some momentum to the economic recovery be firing blanks?

Danny Blanchflower, an ex-member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), was the most vocal saying on social media site Twitter that he was "underwhelmed" and called the actions a "feather duster" in the face of deflation fears.

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"(It's) reasonable to conclude from today's actions that (the) ECB admits policy has been wrong all along and they should have put in stimulus five years ago," he said.

With inflation at 0.5 percent in the euro zone, unemployment at 11.7 percent and bank lending failing to trickle into the wider economy, the central bank delivered one of its most comprehensive packages to date. The interest rate and deposit rates were cut, preparations were under way to purchase asset-backed securities, new cheap loans will be made to banks and the ECB would cease "sterilizing" its past purchases of sovereign bonds.

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This was essentially "throwing the kitchen sink" at the economy, according to one commentator, but Draghi's statement that the ECB was "not necessarily finished yet" didn't seem to persuade market participants that full blown quantitative easing (QE) was on the horizon. Stock markets had soared in anticipation of the Draghi's press conference, with the euro falling and the Dax hitting 10,000 points, but these moves were largely erased after the policy shake-up was fully announced.

"First-glance-enthusiasm doesn't always last," wrote Carsten Brzeski, a senior economist at ING based in Brussels, in a research note. "Looking somewhat critically at today's measures, the ECB has no guarantee that the economy and lending to the private sector can really be kick-started. The ECB is still dependent on banks."

Analysts at BNP Paribas were equally unconvinced, saying that Thursday's measures would not deliver any meaningful increase in monetary accommodation which is required to significantly change the falling growth in consumer prices. Kit Juckes, global head of foreign exchange strategy at Societe Generale, raised the concern that central banks are becoming "economically impotent" and the ECB's measures would do more for stock indexes, derivative markets and peripheral spreads, than for the wider economy.

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Other economists and ECB-watchers suggested that Draghi may have "plateaued", indicating that the chances a U.S. Federal Reserve-style full-blown bond-buying program have grown even less likely. Daiwa Capital added that it did not see the new measures being a "magic bullet" that could cure the region's woes. Other sharp-tongued analogies by analysts included Marc Ostwald's from Monument Securities who questioned whether Draghi had fired a "big bazooka", or rather a "Catch 22 version of Chekhov's Gun."

Financial analyst Louise Cooper, founder of CooperCity, dubbed Draghi a "Mr Muscle Drain cleaner", rather than a central bank fireman of the past, hosing the financial world indiscriminately with cash. Despite being optimistic on the results, she said that the ECB should have confirmed more details of its decision to buy asset-backed securities and believes there would be bad consequences for its negative interest rate policy.

"He has made the best of a bad job," she said in a note on Thursday afternoon. "He has put QE on the table, if it is needed. This was a highly anticipated event and I think Draghi delivered...I'm backing Mr-Muscle-pipe-unblocker-Draghi."