Central Banks

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The European Central Bank (ECB) has "stepped up" its preparations for further asset purchases, central bank President Mario Draghi said at his his regular news conference on Thursday.

Draghi said ECB policymakers would review measures next year and that this could include changing the "size, pace and composition" of its asset-purchasing programs.

"We don't need unanimity for QE (quantitative easing)," Draghi told reporters, in response to questions after his prepared speech.

Draghi: We don't need unanimity but it can be designed to have consensus

"QE has been shown to be effective in the U.S. and the U.K... There is enough evidence to say that it could be effective."

The value of the euro rose 0.58 percent against the U.S. dollar to $1.23 on the ECB chief's remarks.

The ECB has already launched a raft of measures to try and kick-start the euro zone economy—including ultra-low-rate loans to bank and asset backed securities. But the 18-country zone is still struggling economically and consumers and businesses are still not borrowing. The central bank is facing pressure to act further—including a program to buy sovereign bonds.

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There have been several critics of the bond-buying plan—particularly from Germany, who are concerned the plan would spark inflation and discourage governments from implementing austerity measures.

He added that staff had "stepped up" preparations for more asset purchases, and reiterated that policymakers were "unanimous" in their willingness to use additional unconventional policy measures if necessary.

Draghi: This commitment would imply altering early next year the size, pace and composition of our measures

Draghi's words came in the light of the ECB's "substantially" weaker expectations for both inflation and economic growth, when compared with September.

Euro zone growth in real terms is now seen at 0.8 percent in 2014, 1.0 percent next year and 1.5 percent in 2016. This reflects lower expectations for both domestic demand and net exports, said Draghi.

"Germany, France and Italy led the downward revisions," he told reporters.

Draghi's speech came after the ECB, which controls monetary policy in the 18 European countries that use the euro, held the rate on its main refinancing operation at 0.05 percent. The rates on its marginal lending facility and its deposit facility stayed at 0.3 percent and minus 0.2 percent respectively. The negative interest rate on the deposit facility means banks are effectively charged for parking money with the ECB—the first time a major central bank has instigated such a move.

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Hopes of a QE program have been piqued by a stream of weak economic data from the euro zone, the latest of which was Wednesday's Purchasing Mangers' Index (PMI) that showed business activity hit a 16-month low in November. Germany and France—the 18-country zone's two biggest economies—both posted disappointing figures.

The ECB has already launched a slew of easing measures to boost inflation and expand its balance sheet. As well as cutting interest rates, the bank has started buying asset-backed securities (ABS) and covered bonds.

Last week, the bank said it had bought 368 million euros ($453 million) worth of asset-backed securities (ABS) and 17.8 billion euros ($22 billion) of covered bonds.

Goldman Sachs strategist Francesco Garzarelli told CNBC there was a 50 percent chance of the ECB starting government bond purchases between January and March next year.

"There is an idea that the baton in this QE relay has been passed to the ECB, hence the government bond purchase discussion," Garzarelli, co-head of global macro and markets research, told CNBC on Thursday.

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