The president of the European Central Bank steps down in October after eight years. A sharp slowdown in the region’s economy has killed off any chance of a first rate hike during his term.The European Central Bank said on Thursday it expected rates to remain at record low levels at least through the end of 2019. It also announced a series of new cheap loans for banks. “The weakening in economic data points to a sizeable reduction in the pace of economic expansion that will extend into the current year,” ECB President Draghi told reporters. The ECB had previously said it expected rates to remain at present levels “at least through the summer of 2019,” leaving the door ever so slightly open to a rate hike before Draghi’s term ends. Commenting on the ECB’s latest move to stimulate the European economy, Draghi said the central bank had slashed its forecast for growth in the eurozone in 2019 to 1.1%. It was previously projecting growth of 1.7% this year.Draghi said geopolitical factors such as the uncertainty over Britain’s exit from the European Union, slower world trade, rising protectionism and weakness in some emerging markets were weighing on the European economy. Italy slumped into a recession at the end of 2018 and Germany just dodged one.The last time the ECB raised interest rates was April 2011, six months before Draghi became president and before the region’s debt crisis threatened to destroy the euro. Draghi’s pledge in July 2012 to “do whatever it takes to preserve the euro” was seen as the turning point in that crisis, and he subsequently lead the ECB into a series of extraordinary measures to defend the currency and the region’s economy. The ECB only ended its program of quantitative easing in December after creating €2.6 trillion ($3 trillion) in new money since 2015.Following a recent slew of poor economic data, investors were expecting the ECB to offer more cheap loans to regional banks. But the decision to rule out an interest rate rise in 2019 took markets by surprise. The euro dropped about 0.7% against the US dollar and European stocks ended the day with losses. Shares in Deutsche Bank (DB) dropped 5%, while UBS (UBS) shed 3.3% and Societe Generale (SCGLF) gave up 4.2%.Draghi declined to comment on that fact that he will see out his term without raising interest rates other than to point out that the ECB’s governing council as a whole is responsible for setting monetary policy.