Europe News

The ECB just made a big change with its policy outlook

Key Points
  • The European Central Bank opted to keep interest rates unchanged and to continue its asset purchase program until September.
  • Analysts hold very different views regarding the future of the ECB's quantitative easing program.
  • During January's bank meeting, the euro hit $1.25 as ECB President Mario Draghi addressed the press.
ECB: See strong, broad-based growth momentum in euro zone

The European Central Bank (ECB) dropped its easing bias on Thursday, fueling expectations that it will normalize monetary policy in the euro area.

Until now, the ECB has stated that it stands ready to increase the level of bond purchases it makes in both duration and/or size, in case the economic outlook deteriorates in the euro zone.

But it removed such statement from its communication Thursday, following a monetary policy meeting, indicating that stimulus in the region could come to an end in the near future.

ECB President Mario Draghi said Thursday that the solid economic recovery in the region supported the decision to remove the so-called easing bias.

"Incoming information... confirms the strong and broad-based growth momentum in the euro area economy, which is projected to expand in the near-term at a somewhat faster pace than previously expected."

ECB keeps interest rates unchanged

The bank has risen, slightly, its forecasts for real GDP (gross domestic product) since its last forecasts in December. The ECB now expects real GDP to hit 2.4 percent in 2018, 1.9 percent in 2019 and 1.7 percent in 2020.

"The outlook for real GDP growth has been revised up for 2019 and remains unchanged for 2020 and 2018," Draghi said.

Viraj Patel, forex strategist at ING, told CNBC that Draghi did "just enough to appease the hawks in the committee." "It's the confirmation that normalization is on track," he said.

Euro higher

As a result, the euro rose against the dollar on the more hawkish movement from the central bank, trading at $1.2411 at about 12:55 p.m. GMT (7:55 p.m. ET).

Draghi said that the ECB is monitoring the exchange rate "with regard to their possible implications for the inflation outlook."

Back in January, the ECB said that the exchange rate was a "source of uncertainty."

This is because the currency had surged since the start of the year, especially against the dollar. A stronger euro could have an impact on European exports and affect prices in the region. As a result, the bank could be forced to change its monetary policy.

Draghi: Governing Council decision was unanimous

No change in QE

The bank also opted to keep interest rates unchanged and to continue its asset purchase program until September.

It said that "the Governing Council expects the key ECB interest rates to remain at their present levels for an extended period of time, and well past the horizon of the net asset purchases" that is set to last until September 2018.

At the ECB's last monetary policy meeting in January, policymakers agreed that it was too early to make changes to the current level of stimulus, but admitted there could be changes in "early" 2018.

For now, the quantitative easing program will continue at the pace of 30 billion euros per month. The bank also said that the stimulus could go beyond September if economic conditions change.

However, analysts hold very different views regarding the future of the quantitative easing (QE) program.

Draghi: I see two main risks today — trade and financial deregulation

Wolfgang Kiener, senior analyst at BayernLB, told CNBC via email: "Given only a slow increase of core inflation, we expect the ECB to reduce QE from October on to 15 billion euros per month and to stop it altogether at the end of year."

But Mike Bell, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, said that due to solid economic growth and an expected fall in unemployment across the euro zone, "the ECB are likely to feel comfortable ending QE in September."