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(Reuters) - The European Central Bank is likely to signal a move away from its ultra-easy monetary policy by September as economic performance improves, economists in a Reuters poll forecast, although they have not raised their inflation forecasts.
Most respondents in the latest poll, taken May 11-17, said even though they haven't yet altered their numbers, they were more upbeat on the euro zone and France after independent candidate Emmanuel Macron won the French presidential election.
"The outlook hasn't changed due to the election of Macron. It was our base scenario. There was much fear that (National Front candidate Marine) Le Pen could win this election, but we always thought it was nothing more than a real trade risk," said Christian Lips of NORD/LB, the most accurate forecaster in Reuters polls on euro zone economic data last year.
"Low inflationary pressures enable (the) ECB to adjust its expansionary policy very smoothly and slowly."
Nearly three-quarters of the 37 economists who answered an extra question said they had not changed their growth forecasts for France either but most felt more optimistic.
"Risks are clearly biased to the upside, but we need more clarity on whether Macron can push through his reforms," said Claus Vistesen, economist at Pantheon.
Macron won France's election on a platform of a business-friendly vision of European integration by striving for further ties with Germany.
The latest poll of over 80 economists conducted in the past week forecast the euro zone's economy would grow at a quarterly pace of 0.4 percent for the rest of this year.
Data on Tuesday showed the euro zone economy grew 0.5 percent in the first three months of the year, underlining optimism over the health of the economy in the region, which is easily outperforming Britain and the United States.
That helped push the euro up over $1.10, the highest since November 2016. It has since risen further above $1.11.
A separate poll earlier this month showed foreign exchange strategists upgraded their euro forecasts to a six-month high against the dollar, citing a recent pick-up in the euro zone economic data.
Inflation has risen enough to give nearly everyone confidence that the threat of deflation has receded, but actual inflation forecasts still remain mostly subdued.
In the Reuters poll, euro zone inflation is still forecast to remain below the ECB's 2 percent target until at least 2019.
The consensus was for inflation to average 1.6 percent this year, 1.5 percent next and 1.7 percent in 2019. The most aggressive individual forecast in the poll for an annual inflation average was 1.9 percent, for this year.
Inflation forecasts across the horizon including quarterly averages ranged from 0.6 percent to 2.9 percent.
Still, 31 of 43 economists who answered an additional question said the ECB will signal it is winding down its monthly asset purchases by September, with six of those expecting the central bank to move as early as next month.
The ECB is currently purchasing 60 billion euros a month, mostly in bonds, and has rapidly expanded its balance sheet over the past few years.
(For a graphic on the ECB: reut.rs/2qrPbLI)
"In the June press conference the outlook will be described as more balanced and it will be confirmed that ECB Governing Council members discussed an exit strategy," said Marius Gero Daheim, economist at SEB.
"At the September Governing Council meeting, we expect to get further details on this."
When asked what would likely trigger the ECB to signal a move away from its ultra-easy monetary policy, economists cited healthy economic data as the main reason.
Polling and analysis by Indradip Ghosh and Vivek Mishra; Editing by Ross Finley and Larrry King