Eurozone inflation above European Central Bank's target

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Eurozone inflation has risen above the European Central Bank's (ECB) target rate for the first time in four years.

Inflation in the 19-nation bloc hit 2% in February, according to Eurostat, up from a rate of 1.8% the month before.

The rate is the highest since January 2013 and is slightly above the ECB's target of just below 2%.

However, the increase in inflation is largely due to rising energy prices, and analysts do not expect the ECB to alter its current stimulus programme.

In December, the ECB said it would extend its bond-buying programme until at least December 2017, although the €80bn-a-month quantitative easing (QE) scheme will be trimmed to €60bn a month from April.

The bank has cut its main interest rate to zero and embarked on the bond-buying programme to try to stimulate growth in the eurozone and avoid deflation, or falling prices.

Although inflation is now above its target rate, February's core inflation rate - which strips out the impact of energy and food prices - was unchanged at 0.9%.

The ECB is due to meet next week, but Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Markit, said: "We believe the ECB will remain wedded to its current monetary policy stance.

"The ECB has made it very clear that it wants to see sustained, decisive evidence that underlying eurozone inflationary pressures are picking up."

Separate figures from Eurostat found that the unemployment rate in the eurozone remained unchanged at 9.6% in January, which is the lowest rate since May 2009.

Eurostat estimates that the number of unemployed people in the eurozone fell by 56,000 to 15.6 million.

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