BERLIN, March 30 (Reuters) - German consumer inflation slowed more sharply than expected in March, data showed on Thursday, taking some pressure off the European Central Bank to wind down its monetary stimulus soon.
German consumer prices, harmonised to compare with other European countries (HICP), rose by 1.5 percent on the year after reaching a 4-1/2 year high of 2.2 percent in February, the Federal Statistics Office said.
The March reading marked the first slowdown in annual inflation in nearly a year and came in weaker than a Reuters consensus forecast of 1.9 percent.
On a non-harmonized basis, annual inflation slowed to 1.6 percent from 2.2 percent in February.
Rising energy prices and higher food costs were again the main drivers behind the overall increase but they both rose less sharply than in February, a breakdown of the non-harmonized data showed.
The ECB has slashed interest rates into negative territory and adopted a bond-buying programme worth 2.3 trillion euros ($2.5 trillion) to pump money into the region's economy.
ECB policymakers have said the central bank needs to see if inflation rises at the start of the year are sustainable in the medium term before considering changing policies. ($1 = 0.9308 euros) (Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Madeline Chambers)