Credit-easing steps by central banks, at a glance
As early as next month, the European Central Bank is expected to act to counter persistently low inflation and to try to invigorate the eurozone's lethargic economy. Among the evidence the ECB will weigh: Thursday's report that the 18 countries that use the euro collectively grew just 0.2 percent in the first quarter of the year from the previous quarter.
The eurozone's 0.7 percent inflation rate remains well below the ECB's goal of just under 2 percent. Ultra-low inflation makes it hard for indebted governments to reduce their debt loads.
The ECB's expected action coincides with efforts by other key central banks to provide stimulus — though not too much — to sustain their countries' economies.
Here are steps that major central banks around the world have taken to try to bolster their economies:
— EUROPEAN CENTRAL BANK
Interest rates: Has cut its benchmark interest rate a quarter point to 0.25 percent, a record low.
Other policies: The ECB could further cut its benchmark rate. It could also impose a negative interest rate for money that banks park at the ECB. This would be intended to cause banks to lend more to households and businesses. Instead, or in addition, the ECB could buy government or corporate bonds on financial markets to add to the supply of money in the economy and thereby ease credit.
— FEDERAL RESERVE
Interest rates: The Fed is steadily paring its bond purchases as the U.S. economy has shown steady improvement. The purchases have been intended to keep long-term interest rates low to stimulate borrowing and spending. But the Fed says it will continue to keep short-term interest rates low to support the economy "for a considerable time" after its bond purchases end, likely late this year. Most economists expect no rate increase before mid-2015 at the earliest.
Other policies: As the Fed pulls back on its bond purchases, it's putting more focus on its public guidance on short-term rates. It's said that even after the job market strengthens and it starts raising rates, it will likely keep rates unusually low to support the economy. Chair Janet Yellen has also stressed that the Fed's rate policies must be flexible enough to meet unexpected economic challenges.
— BANK OF ENGLAND
Interest rates: Has kept its benchmark rate at a record low of 0.5 percent since 2009.
Other policies: With the British economy gradually returning to normal and unemployment at a five-year low, the Bank of England has sought to dampen expectations that it will soon raise interest rates. Like Yellen, the bank's governor, Mark Carney, has said that even when borrowing rates start to increase, they will likely rise only gradually.
— BANK OF JAPAN
Interest rates: The Bank of Japan and the government have unleashed an ultra-loose monetary policy, heavy government spending, and economic reforms to try to sustain solid growth and help Japan break free from prolonged deflation — a period of falling prices — that tends to discourage spending and investment. The bank has kept its benchmark rate near zero.
Other policies: Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has said he believes the economy is moving toward sustained growth, with price increases moving toward the official target for 2 percent inflation.
— RESERVE BANK OF AUSTRALIA
Interest rates: Has cut its benchmark interest rate to a record low 2.5 percent because of slower growth and high unemployment. The 2.5 percent policy rate is the lowest since the central bank was established in 1960.