The European Central Bank (ECB) cut the rate on its benchmark refinancing facility by 25 basis points to 0.50 percent, as widely expected, along with a 50 basis point cut on the rate on its marginal lending facility to 1.0 percent. The rate on its deposit facility will remain steady at 0.0 percent, the ECB said in a brief statement.
ECB President Mario Draghi will comment on the decision by the ECB council at a press conference later today.
Speculation had intensified in recent days that the ECB would cut rates following news that the inflation rate for the 17 nations sharing the single currency fell to 1.2 percent in April, the lowest since February 2010, and well below the ECB's target of inflation that is below but close to 2 percent.
Economic recession, growing unemployment and recent comments by ECB council members also fueled speculation of a rate cut. Last month Germany's Jens Weidmann, head of the Bundesbank, said the ECB would only cut rates if the economic situation worsened and then both Draghi and Klaas Knot of the Netherlands central bank said the economic situation was not improving.
Last month at the ECB's press conference, Draghi said the bank was keeping a close eye on economic data for its impact on monetary policy and was ready to act. He also said the ECB was looking at various instruments and tools to stimulate economic activity.
The unemployment rate in the euro zone rose to 12.1 percent in Mach from 12.0 percent, the highest level since Eurostat, the European Union's statistics office, started collecting the data in 1995.
The euro zone's Gross Domestic Product shrank by 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, its fifth quarterly contraction in a row, for an annual decline of 0.9 percent, up from 0.6 percent in the third quarter. Economist forecast a further contraction in the first quarter of this year.
Global policy makers have also put pressure on the ECB to stimulate the economy with the International Monetary Fund's managing director, Christine Lagarde, last month saying the ECB still has room to manoeuvre and could cut rates.