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ECB to debate new cheap loans amid 'fragile and fluid' outlook: minutes

FILE PHOTO: The headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Frankfurt skyline with its financial district are photographed on early evening in Frankfurt, Germany, March 25, 2018. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/File Photo

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - European Central Bank policymakers gathering in December suggested revisiting the use of cheap, multi-year loans to banks in the months ahead and sparred on the outlook for the euro zone's economy, minutes of the meeting showed on Thursday.

The ECB wrapped up its 2.6 trillion euro ($3.00 trillion)bond purchases at the Dec. 12-13 meeting but ECB President Mario Draghi couched his policy message in warnings about growing risks and weaker economic data.

Minutes of the discussion suggested some policymakers would have liked Draghi to be even more cautious and at least some called for a discussion on a new round of cheap credit to banks -- a key source of funding for lenders in Italy, Portugal and Spain.

This confirmed Reuters reports and was likely to cement market expectations for a new Targeted Long-Term Financing Operation, one of the ECB's most potent stimulus tools, in some form in the coming months.

"Looking ahead, the suggestion was made to revisit the contribution of targeted longer-term refinancing operations to the monetary policy stance," the ECB said in its account of the December meeting.

Some rate setters called for the ECB's policy message to say that risks to economic growth in the euro area were "tilted to the downside" -- a phrase that has in the past signalled easier policy ahead.

In the end the ECB opted for a compromise solution, where risks were described as being balanced but "moving to the downside". But the minutes laid bare a cautious attitude among rate-setters.

"It was underlined that the situation remained fragile and fluid, as risks could quickly regain prominence or new uncertainties could emerge," the ECB said in the minutes.

($1 = 0.8670 euros)

(Reporting By Francesco Canepa; Editing by Toby Chopra)