Excerpts from the Introductory statement to the press conference by Mario Draghi:
Our monetary policy measures have continued to preserve the very favourable financing conditions that are necessary to secure a sustained convergence of inflation rates towards levels below, but close to, 2% over the medium term. Their ongoing pass-through to the borrowing conditions for firms and households benefits credit creation and supports the steadily firming recovery of the euro area economy. Sentiment indicators suggest that the cyclical recovery may be gaining momentum. Headline inflation has again increased, largely on account of rising energy and food price inflation. However, underlying inflation pressures continue to remain subdued. The Governing Council will continue to look through changes in HICP inflation if judged to be transient and to have no implication for the medium-term outlook for price stability.
A very substantial degree of monetary accommodation is still needed for underlying inflation pressures to build up and support headline inflation in the medium term. If the outlook becomes less favourable, or if financial conditions become inconsistent with further progress towards a sustained adjustment in the path of inflation, we stand ready to increase our asset purchase programme in terms of size and/or duration.
Euro area real GDP increased by 0.4%, quarter on quarter, in the fourth quarter of 2016, following a similar pace of growth in the third quarter. Incoming data, notably survey results, increase our confidence that the ongoing economic expansion will continue to firm and broaden. The pass-through of our monetary policy measures is supporting domestic demand and facilitates the ongoing deleveraging process. The recovery in investment continues to be promoted by very favourable financing conditions and improvements in corporate profitability. Moreover, rising employment, which is also benefiting from past structural reforms, is having a positive impact on households’ real disposable income, thereby providing support for private consumption. Also, there are signs of a somewhat stronger global recovery and increasing global trade. However, economic growth in the euro area is expected to be dampened by a sluggish pace of implementation of structural reforms and remaining balance sheet adjustment needs in a number of sectors.
Euro area annual HICP inflation increased further to 2.0% in February, up from 1.8% in January 2017 and 1.1% in December 2016. This reflected mainly a strong increase in annual energy and unprocessed food price inflation, with no signs yet of a convincing upward trend in underlying inflation. Headline inflation is likely to remain at levels close to 2% in the coming months, largely reflecting movements in the annual rate of change of energy prices. Measures of underlying inflation, however, have remained low and are expected to rise only gradually over the medium term, supported by our monetary policy measures, the expected continuing economic recovery and the corresponding gradual absorption of slack.
The March 2017 ECB staff macroeconomic projections for the euro area foresees annual real GDP increasing by 1.8% in 2017, by 1.7% in 2018 and by 1.6% in 2019. Also, annual HICP inflation is expected at 1.7% in 2017, 1.6% in 2018 and 1.7% in 2019.