Based on our regular economic and monetary analyses, we decided to keep the key ECB interest rates unchanged. We continue to expect them to remain at present or lower levels for an extended period of time, and well past the horizon of our net asset purchases. Regarding non-standard monetary policy measures, we confirm that the monthly asset purchases of €80 billion are intended to run until the end of March 2017, or beyond, if necessary, and in any case until the Governing Council sees a sustained adjustment in the path of inflation consistent with its inflation aim.
Today, we assessed the economic and monetary data which had become available since our last meeting and discussed the new ECB staff macroeconomic projections. Overall, while the available evidence so far suggests resilience of the euro area economy to the continuing global economic and political uncertainty, our baseline scenario remains subject to downside risks.
Looking ahead, we continue to expect the economic recovery to proceed at a moderate but steady pace. In addition, the fiscal stance in the euro area is expected to be mildly expansionary in 2016 and to turn broadly neutral in 2017 and 2018. However, the economic recovery in the euro area is expected to be dampened by still subdued foreign demand, partly related to the uncertainties following the UK referendum outcome, the necessary balance sheet adjustments in a number of sectors and a sluggish pace of implementation of structural reforms. The risks to the euro area growth outlook remain tilted to the downside and relate mainly to the external environment.
This assessment is broadly reflected in the September 2016 ECB staff macroeconomic projections for the euro area, which foresee annual real GDP increasing by 1.7% in 2016, by 1.6% in 2017 and by 1.6% in 2018. Compared with the June 2016 Eurosystem staff macroeconomic projections, the outlook for real GDP growth has been revised downwards slightly.
According to Eurostat’s flash estimate, euro area annual HICP inflation in August 2016 was 0.2%, unchanged from July. While annual energy inflation continued to rise, services and non-energy industrial goods inflation turned out to be slightly lower than in July. Looking ahead, on the basis of current oil futures prices, inflation rates are likely to remain low over the next few months before starting to pick up towards the end of 2016, in large part owing to base effects in the annual rate of change of energy prices. Supported by our monetary policy measures and the expected economic recovery, inflation rates should increase further in 2017 and 2018.
This pattern is also reflected in the September 2016 ECB staff macroeconomic projections for the euro area, which foresee annual HICP inflation at 0.2% in 2016, 1.2% in 2017 and 1.6% in 2018. In comparison with the June 2016 Eurosystem staff macroeconomic projections, the outlook for HICP inflation is broadly unchanged.