ECB raises rates again, outlines balance sheet run off

The European Central Bank (ECB) headquarters is pictured in Frankfurt
The European Central Bank (ECB) headquarters is pictured in Frankfurt January 21, 2015. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/File Photo

FRANKFURT, Dec 15 (Reuters) - The European Central Bank raised interest rates by half a percentage point on Thursday, its fourth successive hike, and outlined plans to shrink its bloated balance sheet from March, hoping that higher borrowing costs will finally arrest runaway inflation.

The central bank for the 19-country euro zone raised its deposit rate to 2%, as expected, and kept further hikes firmly on the table, as fresh economic projections indicated it would still take years to get price growth back to 2%.

The ECB has raised interest rates by a combined 2.5% percentage points since July, its fastest pace of monetary tightening on record, to counter inflation driven above 10% this autumn by soaring food, energy and now services prices.

"Based on the substantial upward revision to the inflation outlook, expects to raise them further," the ECB said in a statement.

Thursday's 50 basis point move marks a slowdown after back-to-back 75-basis-point hikes and mirrors the U.S. Federal Reserve's own change of pace just a day earlier. read more

The ECB's next step in policy tightening will be a reduction in its 5 trillion euro stock of bonds, bought when it was trying to stimulate economic activity, which will make it more expensive for firms and governments to borrow.

"From the beginning of March 2023 onwards, the asset purchase programme (APP) portfolio will decline at a measured and predictable pace," the ECB added. "The decline will amount to 15 billion euros per month on average until the end of the second quarter of 2023."

This process, known as quantitative tightening, will raise longer-term borrowing costs whereas more traditional rate hikes mostly lift short-term funding costs.

The ECB has already reduced its balance sheet by taking back 800 billion euros of ultra-cheap funding from banks, but at 8 trillion euros, its total assets remain exceptionally large by historic standards.

Attention now turns to ECB President Christine Lagarde's 1345 GMT news conference, where she is expected to provide further detail on the economic and policy outlook.

Reporting by Balazs Koranyi; Editing by Catherine Evans

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