updated 9/6/2007 8:23:31 AM ET 2007-09-06T12:23:31

The European Central Bank held its benchmark interest rate steady on Thursday, keeping it at 4 percent in a nod to the volatility that has engulfed global markets since early August.

The Bank of England also decided to keep its benchmark rate steady.

The decisions to keep rates on hold had been expected in recent days.

On Wednesday, the ECB issued an unexpected message that it was "ready to contribute to orderly conditions in the euro money market."

Markets will be looking for hints from ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet if the rate increase originally telegraphed for this month could still come this year.

The ECB sets monetary policy for a bloc of 317 million people that accounts for some 15 percent of the world's gross domestic product.

Earlier Thursday, the Bank of England left its benchmark rate unchanged at 5.75 percent. That came a day after it offered to provide extra cash to reduce "unusually high" overnight lending rates in its monthly market operations, reflecting concern about dwindling credit levels spurred by the problems of the U.S. subprime mortgage market.

The ECB had created waves on Wednesday when it issued a statement saying it was prepared to "act accordingly" in light of renewed market volatility. Markets and analysts took that as a signal that the key refinancing rate would remain at 4 percent, and that more money would be made available for unsettled markets.

Even as the ECB meeting got under way, the bank offered up more cash to banks, injecting another 42.2 billion euros ($57.3 billion), its fifth unscheduled tender in the past month aimed at calming the jitters and providing much-needed liquidity to banks. So far, it has lent some 253 billion euros ($343.8 billion) from the five one-day offers.

The bank, trying to guide the 13-nation euro zone through the storm of volatility, said it received 90.8 billion euros ($123.4 billion) in bids from Thursday's offer, a clear sign that banks are still hungry for extra cash.

The ECB said Wednesday it might take action to "contribute to orderly conditions."

"Volatility in the euro money market has increased and the ECB is closely monitoring the situation," the bank said. "Should this persist tomorrow, the ECB stands ready to contribute to orderly conditions in the euro money market."

Most analysts believed until recently that the bank would lift interest rates to 4.25 percent, but that changed following the past month's market turbulence — a result of the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis.

"Five weeks after the European Central Bank virtually pre-announced a rate hike for Sept. 6, the persistent turmoil in the money market will likely force the ECB to stay on hold instead," said Holger Schmieding, Bank of America's chief economist for Europe.

Thirty-nine out of 51 private-sector banks polled by Dow Jones Newswires forecast that the ECB would leave the refinancing rate at 4 percent on Thursday. Thirty-three of them predicted the rate would hit 4.25 percent by the end of this year.

The bank's message Wednesday had some market observers conjecturing that it may be poised to mirror a move by the U.S. Federal Reserve and lower its lending rate for overnight funds, its marginal lending facility.

That facility has stood 1 percentage point above than the main refinancing minimum bid rate for years.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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