Euro zone inflation rose by more than expected to the European Central Bank's target and core inflation increased to its highest level in more than three years.

This is according to the first estimates from the EU's statistics agency. 

Inflation in the euro zone was 1.9%t year-on-year, Eurostat estimated, up from 1.5% in March and just short of the four-year high of 2% recorded in February. 

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast April annualised inflation at 1.8%, but estimates released showing sharper-than-expected price hikes in Germany had prepared markets for a potential stronger figure for the bloc.

The ECB has a medium-term target for inflation at close to but just below 2%. 

Core inflation, which excludes volatile prices of energy and unprocessed food and which the European Central Bank monitors closely, also rose to 1.2% year-on-year in April from 0.8% in March, above market expectations of 1%. 

The core level was at its highest level since September 2013.

The estimated figures for April could increase pressure on the ECB to wind down its monetary stimulus. 

The ECB has slashed interest rates into negative territory and adopted a bond-buying programme worth €2.3 trillion to counter the threat of deflation and revive growth in the 19-member currency bloc. 

The ECB yesterday stuck to its ultra-easy policy stance, but explicitly acknowledged the vigour of the euro zone economy, now on its best run since the global financial crisis. 

Overall euro zone inflation was higher mainly due to a 7.5% rise in energy prices and of 2.2% for unprocessed food. 

Prices for food, alcohol and tobacco went up by 1.5% in April, actually lower than the 1.8% figure for March. 

In the services sector, the largest in the euro zone economy, prices rose by 1.8% in April, compared with 1% in March.