The European Central Bank piled on a 10th straight interest rate increase Thursday, pressing forward in its fight against stubbornly high inflation that has been plaguing consumers even as worries grow that higher borrowing costs could help push the economy into recession.

The increase of a quarter-percentage point comes as central banks around the world, including the U.S. Federal Reserve, try to judge how much anti-inflation medicine is too much — and what’s the right point to halt their swift series of rate rates before the economy tips into a downturn and people lose their jobs.

The decision raises the ECB’s benchmark deposit rate to four per cent, up drastically from minus 0.5 per cent just a little more than a year ago and the highest since the euro was established in 1999.

Interest rates combat inflation by raising the cost of credit for things people want to buy, particularly houses, and for business investment in buildings and equipment. That cools off demand for goods and relieves upward pressure on prices.

The flip side is that rate hikes can hurt economic growth if they’re overdone.

The economy in the 20 countries that use the euro currency has been teetering on the edge of recession since last year, growing only 0.1 per cent in each of the first two quarters of this year.

Annual inflation of 5.3 per cent in the eurozone is well above the bank’s target of two per cent, robbing consumers of purchasing power and contributing to economic stagnation that has kept growth just above zero this year — supporting arguments for the rate increase.

Pushing the other way was the growing awareness that higher borrowing costs are weighing on decisions by consumers and businesses to invest and spend and are becoming a burden on the economy.

Higher rates have slammed the real estate market, sending mortgage rates higher and ending a yearslong rally in home prices.

The major European economies — Germany, France, Spain and Italy — also saw shrinking activity in August in the services sector even at the tail end of a strong tourism summer in Spain and Italy, according to S&P Global’s surveys of purchasing managers. Services is a broad category that includes hotel stays, haircuts, car repairs and medical treatment.

That comes on top of a slowdown in global manufacturing that is hitting Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, particularly hard.

Yet the economic picture does not resemble a typical recession because unemployment is at a record low of 6.4 per cent. Labor shortages have sent people’s pay higher -- one factor complicating the ECB’s inflation fight.

Also weighing on the outlook is a weaker euro against the strengthening U.S. dollar as investors take the view that economic weakness will hit Europe and China. They are betting that the U.S. Federal Reserve might manage a “soft landing” by finishing its rate hikes without pushing the economy into a downturn.

The Fed made its 11th rate increase in July, bringing its key rate to the highest level in 22 years after pausing in June. Economists and investors generally expect the Fed to skip a rate hike at its meeting next week, but it could increase again in November.

Inflation is lower in the U.S. — at 3.7 per cent — than in Europe despite an upward bump from gasoline prices in August.

Central banks around the world have been hiking rates to stamp out inflation that broke out after the sharp economic rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic strained supply chains and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent food and energy prices higher.

The Bank of England raised rates for the 14th straight time last month, and markets think it’s more likely than not that the central bank would hike again when it meets next week.