FRANKFURT/MUNICH (Reuters) - The European Central Bank needs to continue supporting the euro zone economy with its ultra-loose policy, two of its top officials said on Monday, cementing expectations for an extension of the ECB's bond-buying scheme next month.
The ECB will decide on Dec. 8 on whether and how to extend its 80 billion euros ($85 billion) monthly bond purchases. Sources have told Reuters the program is all but certain to continue beyond its current March deadline.
President Mario Draghi told a European Parliament committee on Monday the ECB needed to maintain its current level of monetary support to bring euro zone inflation back to its target of almost 2 percent.
"The return of inflation towards our objective still relies on the continuation of the current, unprecedented level of monetary support, in spite of the gradual closing of the output gap," Draghi said at a hearing in Strasbourg.
Euro zone inflation was 0.5 percent last month and is expected to rise beyond 1 percent early next year, mainly due to a stabilization in oil prices.
Speaking in Munich, ECB Executive Board member Benoit Coeure said the time to start winding down the ECB's extraordinary policy accommodation had "not yet" come and the Bank needed to see a sustained rebound in inflation first.
Market-based gauges of inflation expectations <EUIL5YF5Y=R> have surged over the past two months and particularly since Donald Trump's U.S. election victory, which has spurred investor bets on greater fiscal spending in the United States.
But Draghi cautioned on Monday one should look beyond the market reaction to Trump's win, which will have long-term consequences that are difficult to predict.
Now sitting on more than a trillion-euros worth of government bonds, the ECB is looking for ways to ensure it can continue to find assets to buy in the coming months if its program is extended.
Coeure said the ECB was far from having to contemplate buying stocks and had never discussed such option, which has been adopted by the Bank of Japan.
ECB sources have told Reuters one possible change being considered would see the ECB buying fewer bonds from countries where scarcity is starting to emerge, such as Germany.
(Reporting By Francesco Canepa in Frankfurt and Balazs Koranyi in Munich; Editing by Toby Chopra)