European Central Bank meets stimulus goal to buy 60 billion euros in bonds

FRANKFURT – The European Central Bank’s 1.1 trillion euro ($1.2 trillion) stimulus program is off to a running start.

The central bank said Tuesday it has met its monthly goal of purchasing 60 billion euros in government and private-sector bonds, the first stage of an effort that is to last into next year.

The bond purchases, which pump newly printed money into the financial system, have widespread significance for markets, investors and the economy. The program is aimed at raising consumer price inflation from a worrisome negative 0.1 per cent annually. It should also support the gradual economic recovery that has been taking hold, and help reduce unemployment. The jobless rate for the eurozone is a high 11.3 per cent.

The ECB said that since launching the effort March 9, it had bought 52.52 billion euros in bonds issued by EU governments or euro-area supranational institutions such as the eurozone’s collective rescue fund for troubled countries. The 60 billion euro goal was reached by additional purchases of private-sector bonds.

The ECB is the chief monetary authority for the 19 countries that use the shared euro. It has recently underlined its determination to carry out the full amount in purchases through September 2016 and beyond if necessary, even though the economy has shown signs of improvement.

Effects of the purchases began taking hold even before they started, as financial market participants moved to anticipate them. Key signs include a sharply weaker euro and falling borrowing costs for eurozone governments. Surveys of business confidence have improved and major European stock indexes rallied during the first quarter.

The weaker euro helps eurozone exporters by making their goods cheaper abroad. For U.S. companies active in Europe, however, it trims the dollar value of their earnings in that currency. The euro traded at $1.08 on Tuesday, down from near $1.40 in May 2014.

The bond purchases have helped keep financial markets calm despite the widely discussed possibility that Greece might fall out of the currency union. The Greek government is at loggerheads with other eurozone governments over the conditions it must meet to obtain further bailout loans needed to avoid defaulting on its debts.