The European Central Bank concluded its latest policy meeting yesterday afternoon, but there was no change in either its main interest rate or the level of bond-buying it is engaged in each month. The euro zone interest rate has been set at zero for more than two years now - while the ECB is planning to buy €30 billion worth of bonds each month until September at least. 

Davy economist David McNamara said that little was given away at yesterday's meeting in terms of what happens after that point. "It was something of a non-event," he said. "The president was asked whether they had discussed the exit strategy [from quantitative easing] and he said they hadn't," he said. That means that it will be the June meeting before markets learn any more about the bank's longer-term plans - and particularly how and when it will bring its bond buying programme to an end.


ECB President Mario Draghi did point towards softer macroeconomic data coming out of the euro zone in recent months, following a period of robust expansion. That has raised the potential for any wind-down to be drawn out somewhat compared to what might have been envisioned at the start of the year. "At the back end of 2017 some commentators were talking about the ECB being behind the curve and needed to raise rates more sharply and stop QE more suddenly, they've lessened now," David McNamara said. "That's given the ECB room to manoeuvre and I wouldn't be surprised if the €30 billion goes to €15 billion after September, and perhaps goes to zero by early 2019," he added. 

Any stretching of the QE timeframe will mean a dragging out of any decision on interest rates, too, meaning that consumers may now not see rates going up again until late 2019. According to the economist, the language the ECB uses indicates that it will first deal with QE, it will withdraw stimulus before it even considers raising rates. 

"If you look at what the markets are pricing in in terms of their expectations for interest rates, it's the end of 2019 before they're expecting the first rate hike from the ECB and it could well be beyond that. If you've got a tracker or variable rate mortgage, you're looking at at least the next 18 months before you would expect a rate hike to come through."

A more immediate factor is the exchange rate, though the euro only slipped slightly on the back of yesterday's meeting. One other thing that could affect the currency markets is the interest rate policy of Britain. The Bank of England is expected to raise rates in the near future - though any decision may be influenced by today's GDP figures. The bank is also looking at the inflation rate, which is easing, and other economic factors like employment.

"The expectation is GDP growth of about 1.4% in the year in the UK - to put that in context the euro zone will be growing by 2.5-3%,", he said. "If it were to surprise on the upside or the downside, perhaps the Bank of England would look to change their guidance. The expectation was May for a rate hike but the Bank of England governor came out last week and said it may not necessarily be May - so we may be looking at the August juncture before we see a rate hike," he added.

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MORNING BRIEFS - Ulster Bank's profit fell sharply in the first quarter of this year as it put aside money to deal with so called 'legacy business issues'. The bank reported an operating profit of €11m for the first three months of the year, down from €32m in the period of 2017. Earlier this week, Ulster Bank confirmed that up to 2,000 additional affected customers had been identified by the Central Bank's examination into the tracker mortgage issue.  That is in addition to the 3,490 already identified. Ulster Bank was also forced to apologise to customers earlier this week when money "disappeared" from some accounts. 

*** Ulster Bank's parent company Royal Bank of Scotland has reported a 206% rise in first quarter profit to £792m. That figure is well ahead of forecast for the British taxpayer-owned bank and compares to profits of £259m the same time last year. 

*** US tech giants Amazon, Microsoft and Intel all posted positive quarterly results last night. Online retailer Amazon reported a 43% jump in revenues in the first three months of the year, with profits doubling to $1.6 billion. Revenues at Microsoft were up 16% in the same period - reaching almost $27 billion - while net income jumped to $7.4 billion. Meanwhile, chip-maker Intel also beat earnings expectations - with revenues rising above £16 billion in the first three months of the year, and net income reaching $7.4 billion.