(Adds country data, details)
By Francesco Canepa
FRANKFURT, Jan 3 (Reuters) - The European Central Bank's
purchases of corporate bonds slowed last month to their lowest
level since it started buying company debt almost two years ago,
data showed on Wednesday.
The ECB has been buying government bonds since 2015, in an
effort to boost inflation in the euro zone, and added credit to
the programme a year later. It is widely expected to wind down
the programme this year, having already reduced its pace to 30
billion euros ($36 bln) per month.
Credit is expected to account for a growing share of the
purchases this year as the ECB nears a cap on how many
government bonds it can own in countries such as Germany and
But Frankfurt bought just 3.08 billion euros ($3.7 billion)
worth of company debt last month, less than half the amounts
acquired in each of the previous three months.
While purchases of government bonds, the largest component
of the ECB's stimulus programme, were also curbed, the reduction
there was less marked as they fell to 46.2 billion euros from
50.7 billion a month earlier.
In total, the ECB bought 50.2 billion euros worth of assets
in December, a month when it normally reduces the pace of buying
due to low trading volumes on financial markets around
As has been the case for months, the ECB bought fewer
government bonds from Germany, Portugal and Finland than its
rules dictate, making up for it with oversized purchases in
Spain, France and Italy.
The ECB set out to buy bonds based on how much capital each
country has paid into Frankfurt's coffers, which in turn depends
on the size of its economy.
But it has had to deviate from this rule, introduced to
overcome German scepticism when the scheme was launched in 2015,
to avoid hitting a self-imposed ban on owning more than a third
of each country's debt.
($1 = 0.8324 euros)
(Reporting by Francesco Canepa; Editing by Alison Williams and
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