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European Central Bank raises forecasts as it prepares to start bond-buying stimulus program

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NICOSIA, Cyprus — European Central Bank head Mario Draghi says the eurozone economy is picking up.

The central bank for the 19-country eurozone on Thursday raised its growth forecast for this year to 1.5 percent from 1.0 percent, just as it prepared to start its stimulus program.

"Looking ahead, we expect the economic recovery to broaden and strengthen," Draghi told reporters after the bank kept its key interest rate on hold at its monthly meeting.

He said the ECB would start on Monday its 1.1 trillion euro ($1.2 trillion) bond-buying program that aims to stimulate the recovery and raise the rate of inflation from a dangerously low minus 0.3 percent.

The ECB will buy 60 billion euros ($67 billion) per month in government and corporate bonds starting Monday.

Economists say the economy is showing signs of life in part due to increased confidence based on hopes for the stimulus program. Lower oil prices and a weaker euro have helped as well.

"The pressure on Draghi and Co. has eased somewhat in recent months," said Dennis de Jong, managing director at brokerage UFX.com.

"There is a real chance that the economies of Europe may have turned the corner - and all before the bond buying commences on 9 March."

The euro got a temporary lift from Draghi's comments but then traded lower, at $1.1043, against $1.1066 before the press conference.

The ECB held its meeting in Nicosia, the capital of the Mediterranean island state of Cyprus, one of two meetings per year it holds away from its headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany.


McHugh reported from Frankfurt, Germany. Pan Pylas in London contributed to this report.

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