By Todd Buell

FRANKFURT--The European Central Bank said Thursday that it would leave all of its interest rates unchanged, a move that economists broadly expected following the central bank's decision last month to extend its bond-buying program until at least the end of 2017.

The ECB left its rate on its regular loans at 0% and its deposit rate at minus 0.4%. The central bank reiterated that it would continue to make asset purchases at EUR80 billion ($84.21 billion) a month until the end of March and then at EUR60 billion a month from April to December, "or beyond, if necessary."

European stock markets held steady in negative territory following the announcement. The Stoxx Europe 600 index inched 0.2% lower to 362.43, deepening its weekly loss to 1%. The euro traded at $1.0660, up from $1.0630 late Wednesday in New York.

U.S. stock futures traded slightly lower. Dow futures were off 0.1% at 19,712, the S&P 500 index futures slipped 0.1% at 2,264, while those for the Nasdaq-100 were near break-even levels at 5,051.

Focus now turns to ECB President Mario Draghi's press conference, which is due to start at 13:30 GMT. Mr. Draghi will have the rare task of presiding over improving economic conditions in the 19-country currency bloc. A recent survey suggested that private sector economic activity grew last December at its fastest pace since May 2011.

The central bank sets its policy with the goal of reaching an inflation rate of just below 2%. It has missed this goal for nearly four years and its own predictions see it still missing that goal in 2019. But inflation has started to rebound,hitting 1.1% in December, the fastest rate of growth since September 2013.

This acceleration in price growth forces Mr. Draghi to explain the very expansionary policy that the central bank has employed in recent years. Experts say it will be less of a problem Thursday, but later in the year, Mr. Draghi will have to find the right balance between communicating good economic news, while not triggering a sharp, negative market reaction.

"When Draghi has to deliver good news, he will go the extra mile to play down the consequences," said Alessio de Longis, portfolio manager for the Global Multi-Asset Group, OppenheimerFunds.

The ECB's asset-purchase program is particularly controversial in Germany where critics argue that it blurs the line between monetary and fiscal policy and discourages countries from enacting needed reforms. The ECB disputes this theory.

Reporters will likely also probe Mr. Draghi on the risks posed by global movements that run counter to free trade and open borders. On Friday, Donald Trump is due to become the next president of the United States following a campaign that called for tougher restrictions on trade and immigration. British Prime Minister Theresa May announced Tuesday that Britain's looming exit from the European Union meant it would leave Europe's tariff-free single market.

Write to Todd Buell at todd.buell@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 19, 2017 08:21 ET (13:21 GMT)

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