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ECB may keep open option to prolong bond-buying again in 2018 - sources

[FRANKFURT] European Central Bank policymakers disagree on whether to set a definitive end-date for their money-printing programme when they meet in October, raising the chance that they will keep open at least the option of prolonging it again, six sources told Reuters.

A stubbornly strong euro, with its dampening effect on inflation, is driving a rift among ECB policymakers, the sources on the ECB's Governing Council with direct knowledge of its thinking said.

The split is between 'hawks' - led by richer, northern countries such as Germany - who are ready to wind down the 2.3 trillion euros bond-purchase programme and 'doves' who simply want to reduce its monthly pace, the sources said.

This is raising the likelihood that they will seek a compromise solution on Oct 26, whereby any end-date for purchases would not be set in stone, or that they will put off part of the decision until December, the sources added.

The main point of contention is the euro's continued appreciation against major currencies, which is threatening to curb inflation in the euro zone by making its imports cheaper and exports dearer.

The ECB declined to comment. The sources noted that no decision had been made and that the debate remained open.