ECB cuts rates as Draghi says downside risks materialized

July 5 (Bloomberg) -- The European Central Bank cut interest rates to a record low and said it won’t pay anything on overnight deposits as the sovereign debt crisis threatens to drive the euro region into recession.

Some “downside risks to the euro-area economic outlook have materialized,” ECB President Mario Draghi said at a press conference in Frankfurt after lowering the main refinancing rate and the deposit rate by 25 basis points to 0.75 percent and zero respectively. “Economic growth in the euro area continues to remain weak with heightened uncertainty weighing on both confidence and sentiment,” Draghi said.

With Europe’s debt crisis curbing growth across the continent and damping the global outlook, the ECB was under pressure to ease monetary conditions, even though Draghi last month voiced misgivings about the effectiveness of a rate reduction. While today’s moves may not stimulate demand, they will lower borrowing costs for struggling banks and could build on the confidence boost euro-area governments delivered last week when they took steps toward a deeper economic union.

‘New Territory’

“The benchmark rate doesn’t really matter at the moment, but cutting the deposit rate all the way to zero takes the ECB into new territory,” said James Nixon, chief European economist at Societe Generale SA in London. “If you can kick-start the money market you go a long way to addressing some of the funding problems that banks face. That may free banks to lend to the economy.”

Today’s rate cut, predicted by 49 of 64 economists in a Bloomberg News survey, is the first since December and the third since Draghi took office on Nov. 1. Twelve of 22 forecasters in another survey predicted the ECB would lower the deposit rate to zero. The euro fell more than half a cent to $1.2402 at 3 p.m. in Frankfurt.

Central banks around the globe are easing policy in response to Europe’s debt crisis, which has pushed at least seven euro nations into recession and forced five of them to seek bailouts.

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