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European Central Bank to raise deposit rate to 3.25% by mid-year

By Jonathan Cable

LONDON (Reuters) - The European Central Bank will deliver 50 basis point interest rate rises at each of its next two meetings, according to economists polled by Reuters, whose forecasts still risk lagging behind policymakers' guidance on how high rates will go.

Rate setters have failed to convince markets about their commitment to continue increasing borrowing costs to rein in inflation, evident in the poll, which showed the central bank would stop when the deposit rate reaches 3.25% next quarter.

The latest poll findings come despite ECB President Christine Lagarde telling investors in Davos last week they should "revise their positions", adding weight to earlier comments from Dutch and Latvian policymakers.

Although the euro zone's central bank has been raising rates at its fastest pace on record, it has so far failed to bring inflation anywhere near its 2% target. Prices rose 9.2% in December from a year earlier, official data showed last week.

Lagarde and her Governing Council will take the deposit rate to 2.50% on Feb. 2, said 55 of 59 economists in the Jan. 13-20 poll. They are likely to follow that up with another 50 basis point lift in March.

The central bank will then add 25 basis points next quarter before pausing, giving a terminal rate in the current cycle of 3.25%, its highest since late 2008. In December's poll, the rate was put at 2.50% at end-March and was seen topping out at 2.75%.

GRAPHIC: Reuters Poll - ECB deposit rate outlook - https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/polling/movakjzjyva/Reuters%20Poll%20-%20ECB%20deposit%20rate%20outlook.png

Asked how the risks were skewed to their terminal deposit rate forecasts, over two-thirds of respondents, 23 of 33, said it was more likely it ends higher rather than lower than they currently expect.

"The risk is they will actually be as aggressive as they have claimed. Lagarde and others have said they are in for the long haul where we are going to raise rates meeting by meeting in 2023," said Silke Tober at the Macroeconomic Policy Institute (IMK).

"It's a very clear risk but I happen to think it would be a mistake."

The refinancing rate was expected to rise 50 basis points to 3.00% next week and reach a peak of 3.50% in March.

The U.S. Federal Reserve, which began raising rates many months before the ECB, is forecast to end its tightening cycle after a 25 basis point hike at each of its next two policy meetings. It is then expected to hold rates steady for at least the rest of the year, according to a recent Reuters poll.

GROWTH UPGRADE

Inflation has already peaked in the 20-nation EU, the poll found, and will drift down, but was not seen at the ECB's target until at least 2025. Inflation will average 6.0% this year and 2.5% next but will be 2.0% across 2025.

A mild winter so far, falling gas prices and recent positive economic data meant some quarterly growth forecasts were upgraded in the latest poll from a December survey.

Although a technical recession was still predicted - with a 0.2% contraction last quarter and 0.3% in the current one - the economy was now expected to grow 0.1% next quarter rather than flatline. It is forecast to expand 0.3% in the following two quarters, unchanged medians showed.

When asked in an extra question whether the downturn is likely to be deeper, or shallower, than expected, all but one of the 36 economists said it was more likely to be shallower than deeper.

"Not only has the risk of severe, energy-driven recessions diminished markedly but the direction of travel of leading indicators, including our PMI data, signals a rising likelihood of an earlier pick-up in growth than expected," said Ken Wattret at S&P Global.

Across this year, growth was pegged at 0.1%, a turnaround from the 0.1% contraction forecast last month. In 2024 it was expected to grow 1.3%, unchanged from December's prediction.

(For other stories from the Reuters global long-term economic outlook polls package:

(Reporting by Jonathan Cable; polling by Aditi Verma, Sujith Pai and Sarupya Ganguly; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Sharon Singleton)