The Associated Press March 19, 2012, 11:19AM ET

ECB keeps bond purchases program on hold

The European Central Bank says it bought no government bonds in the markets last week.

The ECB said Monday the total amount bought under the so-called Securities Markets Programme remains (EURO)218 billion ($290 billion).

The ECB had bought no bonds for four weeks straight, then purchased only (EURO)27 million the week before last.

The ECB started making the purchases in May 2010 -- at times spending billions of euros a week. They are designed to drive down borrowing rates for heavily indebted countries by reducing the interest yield on bonds in the secondary market. That reduces the rates countries pay when they borrow.

High borrowing costs have driven Greece, Ireland and Portugal to seek bailouts from other eurozone governments.

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