(Bloomberg) -- Euro-zone inflation eased less than anticipated in February — supporting European Central Bank officials who don’t want to rush into lowering interest rates.

Consumer prices rose 2.6% from a year ago in February, Eurostat said Friday. That’s above the 2.5% median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists. Core inflation, excluding volatile components such as food and energy, also moderated less than envisaged, to 3.1%.

The slowdown was visible across the currency bloc as the surge in energy costs fades and the 20-nation economy stutters. Dips were announced in Germany, France and Spain this week, while Italy said Friday that inflation was unchanged at 0.9%.

German bonds held onto earlier losses and the euro was flat at about $1.08. The market’s outlook for the pace and scale of rate cuts this year was little changed. The first reduction is expected by June, though odds of a move by then have fallen to about 80% from a near certainty as recently as this week.

The data come just days before the ECB next sets borrowing costs, with economists predicting the deposit rate will be left at 4% for a fourth meeting. Officials are converging around a first reduction in June, though a minority favors swifter action.

Some politicians would also like cuts to arrive more rapidly as their economies struggle. Portuguese Finance Minister Fernando Medina was the latest to speak out, telling Bloomberg there’s a “high risk” in keeping policy tight.

“Various European countries are having a very strong slowdown,” he said Thursday in Sao Paulo. “In some there’s already stagnation and recession. At this moment, the risks of leaving the situation as it is are greater than starting a process of reducing interest rates. The economy has already slowed enough.”

While policymakers are optimistic that inflation is headed toward their 2% goal. They remain concerned that elevated increases in wages and labor costs risk stoking price pressures for longer.

Indeed, despite economic weakness, the jobs market remains tight: A separate Eurostat release showed the unemployment rate stayed at a record-low 6.4% in January.

“We watched inflation data coming in from the European and country level, and what we see is that they confirm my view that we have to wait, have to be attentive and can’t rush to a decision,” Austrian central bank Governor Robert Holzmann said Friday in Vienna.

President Christine Lagarde said Monday that “the current disinflationary process is expected to continue,” but that she and her colleagues need to see more evidence of a sustainable return to the target.

Analysts, too, fret that this week’s numbers mask upticks in month-on-month inflation readings that aren’t distorted by swings in energy costs skewing annual comparisons.

What Bloomberg Economics Says...

“Disinflation continued in the euro area in February. Importantly for the ECB, a modest part of the decline was driven by services price inflation — the bit of the basket policymakers have most influence over. We expect further declines in coming months, which is what the Governing Council will need to see before cutting interest rates.”

—Jamie Rush and Maeva Cousin, economists. Click here for full REACT

Some officials say inflation may cool to, or even below, 2% already this year — months earlier than envisaged in the ECB’s latest projections from December. Its staff will present new forecasts next week, with slight downward revisions expected for price gains and economic expansion in the near term.

Greek central bank Governor Yannis Stournaras said last week that “the recent set of data suggests we’ll reach 2% in the autumn.” After achieving the goal, his opposite number in Portugal, Mario Centeno, reckons inflation “will fluctuate around 2% — which is what we want.”

The dovish Stournaras, however, is aligned with his more hawkish colleagues on the Governing Council in stressing that there won’t be sufficient information to decide on rate cuts before June, particularly on salaries.

Indicators like negotiated wages have begun to point in the right direction, but a new, more forward-looking ECB gauge showed a turning point has yet to be reached.

Some analysts see inflation picking up again in the medium-term. Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank, projects a gradual rebound in price pressures throughout 2025, toward 2.5%.

Bloomberg Economics’ nowcast for March points to a reading of 2.2%, taking the latest data into account.

--With assistance from Alexander Weber, Alice Gledhill, Marton Eder, Constantine Courcoulas, Barbara Sladkowska, Joel Rinneby and Andrej Sokol (Economist).

(Updates with market reaction, ECB’s Holzmann, nowcast starting in fourth paragraph.)

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