ECB could start considering stimulus exit at next meeting

Officials at the European Central Bank have indicated that their next meeting would be a good time to consider shifting toward an exit from the stimulus efforts that have boosted the economy.

A written account of the April 27 meeting showed members of the bank's rate-setting council expect that if the economic recovery keeps going, they would have to consider "adjusting the present formulation" of their stance.

The ECB rate-setters will have new forecasts for inflation and growth at that meeting, which would put the council "in a better position to take stock."

The ECB has said it plans to keep pumping 60 billion euros ($67 billion) in newly printed money into the economy through bond purchases at least through the end of the year. Markets are awaiting more clarity about when that program will end.

Phasing out the bond purchases will have wide-ranging effects on markets, investors and governments. The purchases have been holding down longer-term interest rates and flooding the banking system with cash in hopes of promoting lending to businesses so they can expand and hire.

Tapering the purchases will likely mean higher interest costs for long-term borrowers such as governments and people who buy homes through mortgages. It should also increase returns to savers with conservative holdings and make it easier to fund pension savings plans. Ending the purchases would also be a prelude to the bank raising its main short-term interest rate benchmark, currently at a record low of zero.

The Frankfurt-based ECB is responsible for setting monetary policy for the 19 countries that use the euro currency. The primary goal of its stimulus policies has been raising inflation sustainably toward the bank's goal of just under 2 percent. Current annual inflation of 1.9 percent in April is in line with that on paper. But the written account indicated that officials feel underlying inflationary pressures remain weak and that the recent upturn in inflation is not yet "durable and self-sustaining."

The written accounts show the general outline of discussions on the 25-member governing council. The accounts omit any vote totals or the names of who said what.