- Quantitative easing
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Quantitative easing (QE) is an unconventional monetary policy used by central banks to stimulate the national economy when conventional monetary policy has become ineffective. A central bank buys financial assets to inject a pre-determined quantity of money into the economy. This is distinguished from the more usual policy of buying or selling government bonds to keep market interest rates at a specified target value.
A central bank implements quantitative easing by purchasing financial assets from banks and other private sector businesses with new electronically created money. This action increases the excess reserves of the banks, and also raises the prices of the financial assets bought, which lowers their yield.
Expansionary monetary policy typically involves the central bank buying short-term government bonds in order to lower short-term market interest rates (using a combination of standing lending facilities and open market operations). However, when short-term interest rates are either at, or close to, zero, normal monetary policy can no longer lower interest rates. Quantitative easing may then be used by the monetary authorities to further stimulate the economy by purchasing assets of longer maturity than only short term government bonds, and thereby lowering longer-term interest rates further out on the yield curve.
Quantitative easing can be used to help ensure inflation does not fall below target. Risks include the policy being more effective than intended in acting against deflation, and thereby causing higher inflation, or of not being effective enough (if banks do not loan out the money).
Ordinarily, a central bank conducts monetary policy by raising or lowering its interest rate target for the inter-bank interest rate. A central bank generally achieves its interest rate target mainly through open market operations, where the central bank buys or sells short-term government bonds from banks and other financial institutions. When the central bank disburses or collects payment for these bonds, it alters the amount of money in the economy, while simultaneously affecting the price (and thereby the yield) for short-term government bonds. This in turn affects the interbank interest rates.
If the nominal interest rate is at or very near zero, the central bank cannot lower it further. Such a situation, called a liquidity trap, can occur, for example, during deflation or when inflation is very low. In such a situation, the central bank may perform quantitative easing by purchasing a pre-determined amount of bonds or other assets from financial institutions without reference to the interest rate. The goal of this policy is to increase the money supply rather than to decrease the interest rate, which cannot be decreased further. This is often considered a "last resort" to stimulate the economy.
Quantitative easing, and monetary policy in general, can only be carried out if the central bank controls the currency used. The central banks of countries in the Eurozone, for example, cannot unilaterally expand their money supply, and thus cannot employ quantitative easing. They must instead rely on the European Central Bank (ECB) to set monetary policy.
The original Japanese expression for quantitative easing (量的金融緩和, ryōteki kin'yū kanwa), was used for the first time by a Central Bank in the Bank of Japan's publications. The Bank of Japan has claimed that the central bank adopted a policy with this name on 19 March 2001. However, the Bank of Japan's official monetary policy announcement of this date does not make any use of this expression (or any phrase using "quantitative") in either the Japanese original statement or its English translation. Indeed, the Bank of Japan had for years, including as late as February 2001, claimed that "quantitative easing … is not effective" and rejected its use for monetary policy. Speeches by the Bank of Japan leadership in 2001 gradually, and ex post, hardened the subsequent official Bank of Japan stance that the policy adopted by the Bank of Japan on March 19, 2001 was in fact quantitative easing. This became the established official view, especially after Toshihiko Fukui was appointed governor in February 2003. The use by the Bank of Japan is not the origin of the term quantitative easing or its Japanese original (ryoteki kinyu kanwa). This expression had been used since the mid-1990s by critics of the Bank of Japan and its monetary policy.
Quantitative easing was used unsuccessfully by the Bank of Japan (BOJ) to fight domestic deflation in the early 2000s. The Bank of Japan has maintained short-term interest rates at close to zero since 1999. With quantitative easing, it flooded commercial banks with excess liquidity to promote private lending, leaving them with large stocks of excess reserves, and therefore little risk of a liquidity shortage. The BOJ accomplished this by buying more government bonds than would be required to set the interest rate to zero. It also bought asset-backed securities and equities, and extended the terms of its commercial paper purchasing operation.
The earliest written record of the phrase and concept of "quantitative easing" has been attributed to the economist Dr Richard Werner, Professor of International Banking at the School of Management, University of Southampton (UK). At the time working as chief economist of Jardine Fleming Securities (Asia) Ltd. in Tokyo, he coined the expression in 1994 during presentations to institutional investors in Tokyo. It is also, among others, in the title of an article published on September 2, 1995, in the Nihon Keizai Shinbun (Nikkei). According to its author, he used this phrase in order to propose a new form of monetary stimulation policy by the central bank that relied neither on interest rate reductions (which Werner claimed in his Nikkei article would be ineffective) nor on the conventional monetarist policy prescription of expanding the money supply (e.g., through "printing money", expanding high powered money, expanding bank reserves or boosting deposit aggregates such as M2; all of which Werner also claimed would be ineffective). Instead, Werner argued, it was necessary and sufficient for an economic recovery to boost "credit creation", through a number of measures. He also suggested direct purchases of non-performing assets from the banks by the central bank; direct lending to companies and the government by the central bank; purchases of commercial paper, other debt, and equity instruments from companies by the central bank; and stopping the issuance of government bonds to fund the public sector borrowing requirement, instead having the government borrow directly from banks through a standard loan contract.
More recently, similar policies have been used by the United States, the United Kingdom and the Eurozone during the Financial crisis of 2007–2010. Quantitative easing was used by these countries as their risk-free short-term nominal interest rates are either at, or close to, zero. In US, this interest rate is the federal funds rate. In UK, it is the official bank rate.
During the peak of the financial crisis in 2008, in the United States the Federal Reserve expanded its balance sheet dramatically by adding new assets and new liabilities without "sterilizing" these by corresponding subtractions. In the same period the United Kingdom also used quantitative easing as an additional arm of its monetary policy in order to alleviate its financial crisis.
The European Central Bank has used 12-month long-term refinancing operations (a form of quantitative easing without referring to it as such) through a process of expanding the assets that banks can use as collateral that can be posted to the ECB in return for euros. This process has led to bonds being "structured for the ECB". By comparison the other central banks were very restrictive in terms of the collateral they accept: the US Federal Reserve used to accept primarily treasuries (in the first half of 2009 it bought almost any relatively safe dollar-denominated securities); the Bank of England applied a large haircut.
During its QE programme, the Bank of England bought gilts from financial institutions, along with a smaller amount of relatively high-quality debt issued by private companies. The banks, insurance companies and pension funds can then use the money they have received for lending or even to buy back more bonds from the bank. The central bank can also lend the new money to private banks or buy assets from banks in exchange for currency. These have the effect of depressing interest yields on government bonds and similar investments, making it cheaper for business to raise capital. Another side effect is that investors will switch to other investments, such as shares, boosting their price and thus encouraging consumption. QE can reduce interbank overnight interest rates, and thereby encourage banks to loan money to higher interest-paying and financially weaker bodies.
The US Federal Reserve held between $700 billion and $800 billion of Treasury notes on its balance sheet before the recession. In late November 2008, the Fed started buying $600 billion in Mortgage-backed securities (MBS). By March 2009, it held $1.75 trillion of bank debt, MBS, and Treasury notes, and reached a peak of $2.1 trillion in June 2010. Further purchases were halted as the economy had started to improve, but resumed in August 2010 when the Fed decided the economy wasn't growing robustly. After the halt in June holdings started falling naturally as debt matured and were projected to fall to $1.7 trillion by 2012. The Fed's revised goal became to keep holdings at the $2.054 trillion level. To maintain that level, the Fed bought $30 billion in 2–10 year Treasury notes a month. In November 2010, the Fed announced a second round of quantitative easing, or "QE2", buying $600 billion of Treasury securities by the end of the second quarter of 2011.
The Bank of England had purchased around £165 billion of assets by September 2009 and around £175 billion of assets by end of October 2010. At its meeting in November 2010, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted to increase total asset purchases to £200 billion. Most of the assets purchased have been UK government securities (gilts), the Bank has also been purchasing smaller quantities of high-quality private sector assets. In December 2010 MPC member Adam Posen called for a £50 billion expansion of the Bank's quantitative easing programme, whilst his colleague Andrew Sentance has called for an increase in interest rates due to inflation being above the target rate of 2%. In October 2011, the Bank of England announced it would undertake another round of QE, creating an additional £75 billion, bringing the total amount to £275 billion.
The Bank of Japan (BOJ) increased the commercial bank current account balance from ¥5 trillion yen to ¥35 trillion (approximately US$300 billion) over a 4 year period starting in March 2001. As well, the BOJ tripled the quantity of long-term Japan government bonds it could purchase on a monthly basis. In early October 2010, the BOJ announced that it would examine the purchase of ¥5 trillion (US$60 billion) in assets. This was an attempt to push the value of the yen versus the US dollar down to stimulate the local economy by making their exports cheaper; it didn't work. On 4 August 2011 the bank announced a unilateral move to increase the amount from ¥40 trillion (US$504 billion) to a total of ¥50 trillion (US$630 billion). In October 2011 the Bank of Japan expanded its asset purchase program by ¥5 trillion ($66bn) to a total of ¥55 trillion.
QE1, QE2, and QE3
The expression "QE2" became a "ubiquitous nickname" in 2010, usually used to refer to a second round of quantitative easing by central banks. In retrospect, the round of quantitative easing preceding QE2 may be called "QE1". Similarly, "QE3" refers to proposals for an additional round of quantitative easing following QE2.
According to the IMF, the quantitative easing policies undertaken by the central banks of the major developed countries since the beginning of the late-2000s financial crisis have contributed to the reduction in systemic risks following the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. The IMF states that the policies also contributed to the improvements in market confidence and the bottoming out of the recession in the G-7 economies in the second half of 2009.
Economist Martin Feldstein argues that QE2 led to a rise in the stock-market in the second half of 2010, which in turn contributed to increasing consumption and the strong performance of the US economy in late-2010.
In November 2010, a group of conservative Republican economists and political activists released an open letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke questioning the efficacy of the Fed's QE program. The Fed responded that their actions reflected the environment of high unemployment and low inflation.
Quantitative easing may cause higher inflation than desired if the amount of easing required is overestimated, and too much money is created. On the other hand, it can fail if banks remain reluctant to lend money to small business and households in order to spur demand. Quantitative easing can effectively ease the process of deleveraging as it lowers yields. But in the context of a global economy, lower interest rates may contribute to asset bubbles in other economies.
An increase in money supply has an inflationary effect (as indicated by an increase in the annual rate of inflation). There is a time lag between money growth and inflation, inflationary pressures associated with money growth from QE could build before the central bank acts to counter them. Inflationary risks are mitigated if the system's economy outgrows the pace of the increase of the money supply from the easing. If production in an economy increases because of the increased money supply, the value of a unit of currency may also increase, even though there is more currency available. For example, if a nation's economy were to spur a significant increase in output at a rate at least as high as the amount of debt monetized, the inflationary pressures would be equalized. This can only happen if member banks actually lend the excess money out instead of hoarding the extra cash. During times of high economic output, the central bank always has the option of restoring the reserves back to higher levels through raising of interest rates or other means, effectively reversing the easing steps taken.
On the other hand, in economies when the monetary demand is highly inelastic with respect to interest rates, or interest rates are close to zero (symptoms which imply a liquidity trap), quantitative easing can be implemented in order to further boost monetary supply, and assuming that the economy is well below potential (inside the production possibilities frontier), the inflationary effect would not be present at all, or in a much smaller proportion.
Increasing the money supply tends to depreciate a country's exchange rates versus other currencies. This feature of QE directly benefits exporters residing in the country performing QE and also debtors whose debts are denominated in that currency, for as the currency devalues so does the debt. However, it directly harms creditors and holders of the currency as the real value of their holdings decrease. Devaluation of a currency also directly harms importers as the cost of imported goods is inflated by the devaluation of the currency.
The new money could be used by the banks to invest in emerging markets, commodity-based economies, commodities themselves and non-local opportunities rather than to lend to local businesses that are having difficulty getting loans.
Comparison with other instruments
Professor Willem Buiter, of the London School of Economics, has proposed a terminology to distinguish quantitative easing, or an expansion of a central bank's balance sheet, from what he terms qualitative easing, or the process of a central bank adding riskier assets onto its balance sheet:Quantitative easing is an increase in the size of the balance sheet of the central bank through an increase [in its] monetary liabilities (base money), holding constant the composition of its assets. Asset composition can be defined as the proportional shares of the different financial instruments held by the central bank in the total value of its assets. An almost equivalent definition would be that quantitative easing is an increase in the size of the balance sheet of the central bank through an increase in its monetary liabilities that holds constant the (average) liquidity and riskiness of its asset portfolio. Qualitative easing is a shift in the composition of the assets of the central bank towards less liquid and riskier assets, holding constant the size of the balance sheet (and the official policy rate and the rest of the list of usual suspects). The less liquid and more risky assets can be private securities as well as sovereign or sovereign-guaranteed instruments. All forms of risk, including credit risk (default risk) are included.
In introducing the Federal Reserve's response to the 2008–9 financial crisis, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke distinguished the new programme, which he termed "credit easing" from Japanese-style quantitative easing. In his speech, he announced:Our approach—which could be described as "credit easing"—resembles quantitative easing in one respect: It involves an expansion of the central bank's balance sheet. However, in a pure QE regime, the focus of policy is the quantity of bank reserves, which are liabilities of the central bank; the composition of loans and securities on the asset side of the central bank's balance sheet is incidental. Indeed, although the Bank of Japan's policy approach during the QE period was quite multifaceted, the overall stance of its policy was gauged primarily in terms of its target for bank reserves. In contrast, the Federal Reserve's credit easing approach focuses on the mix of loans and securities that it holds and on how this composition of assets affects credit conditions for households and businesses.
Credit easing involves increasing the money supply by the purchase not of government bonds, but of private sector assets such as corporate bonds and residential mortgage-backed securities. When undertaking credit easing, the Federal Reserve increases the money supply not by buying government debt, but instead by buying private sector assets including residential mortgage-backed securities. In 2010, the Federal Reserve purchased $1.25 trillion of mortgage-backed securities (MBS) in order to support the sagging mortgage market. These purchases increased the monetary base in a way similar to a purchase of government securities.
Quantitative easing has been nicknamed "printing money" by some members of the media, central bankers, and financial analysts. However, central banks state that the use of the newly created money is different in QE. With QE, the newly created money is used for buying government bonds or other financial assets, whereas the term printing money usually implies that the newly minted money is used to directly finance government deficits or pay off government debt (also known as monetizing the government debt).
Central banks in most developed nations (e.g., UK, US, Japan, and EU) are forbidden by law to buy government debt directly from the government and must instead buy it from the secondary market. This two-step process, where the government sells bonds to private entities then the central bank buys them, has been called "monetizing the debt" by many analysts. The distinguishing characteristic between QE and monetizing debt is that with QE, the central bank is creating money to stimulate the economy, not to finance government spending. Also, the central bank has the stated intention of reversing the QE when the economy has recovered (by selling the government bonds and other financial assets back into the market). The only effective way to determine whether a central bank has monetized debt is to compare its performance relative to its stated objectives. Many central banks have adopted an inflation target. It is likely that a central bank is monetizing the debt if it continues to buy government debt when inflation is above target, and the government has problems with debt-financing.
Ben Bernanke remarked in 2002 that the US Government had a technology called the printing press, or today its electronic equivalent, so that if rates reached zero and deflation was threatened the government could always act to ensure deflation was prevented. He said, however, that the Government would not print money and distribute it "willy nilly" but would rather focus its efforts in certain areas (for example, buying federal agency debt securities and mortgage-backed securities). This speech showed that Bernanke was already prepared to prevent deflation and deal with the problem of rates at the zero bound by printing money or its electronic equivalent. This speech led critics to refer to Bernanke as "helicopter Ben"
Other central bankers and economists have referred to "money printing" while discussing monetary policy during QE.
Richard W. Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, has said that the US is monetizing debt through QE, referencing the additional $600 billion created for QE2, "For the next eight months, the nation's central bank will be monetizing the federal debt."
According to economist Robert McTeer, former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, there is nothing wrong with printing money during a recession, and quantitative easing is different from traditional monetary policy "only in its magnitude and pre-announcement of amount and timing".
Altering debt maturity structure
Based on research reassessing the effectiveness of the US Federal Open Market Committee action in 1961 known as Operation Twist, The Economist has posited that a similar restructuring of the supply of different types of debt would have an effect equal to that of QE. Such action would allow finance ministries (e.g., the US Department of the Treasury) a role in the process now reserved for central banks.
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- ^ http://www.clevelandfed.org/Forefront/2011/spring/ff_2011_spring_08.cfm
- ^ http://dallasfed.org/news/speeches/fisher/2010/fs101108.cfm
- ^ Forbes. http://blogs.forbes.com/beltway/2010/12/23/theres-nothing-wrong-with-the-fed-printing-money/.
- ^ Forbes. http://blogs.forbes.com/beltway/2010/08/26/quantitative-easing-is-a-toxic-phrase-for-a-routine-policy/.
- ^ a b "Twisted thinking: Government Debt-Managers May be Undermining Quantitative Easing". The Economist. 31 March 2011. Retrieved 10 April 2011.
- Credit Easing Policy Tools Interactive chart of the assets on Federal Reserve's balance sheet.
- Deflation: Making Sure "It" Doesn't Happen Here, 2002 speech by Ben Bernanke on deflation and the utility of quantitative easing
- Bank of England - Quantitative Easing
- Bank of England - QE Explained Pamphlet
- Modern Money Mechanics Federal Reserve Document Explaining How Money Is Created
- Quantitative easing explained (Financial Times Europe)
- A Fed Governor Discusses Quantitative Easing Among Other Topics
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