Seven years ago (on 5 March 2009), the Bank of England reduced interest rates to a record low of 0.5%. This was in response to a deepening recession. It mirrored action taken by other central banks across the world as they all sought to stimulate their economies, which were reeling from the financial crisis.
Record low interest rates, combined with expansionary fiscal policy, were hoped to be enough to restore rates of growth to levels experienced before the crisis. But they weren’t. One by one countries increased narrow money through bouts of quantitative easing.
But as worries grew about higher government deficits, brought about by the expansionary fiscal policies and by falling tax receipts as incomes and spending fell, so fiscal policy became progressively tighter. Thus more and more emphasis was put on monetary policy as the means of stimulating aggregate demand and boosting economic growth.
Ultra low interest rates and QE were no longer a short-term measure. They persisted as growth rates remained sluggish. The problem was that the higher narrow money supply was not leading to the hoped-for credit creation and growth in consumption and investment. The extra money was being used for buying assets, such as shares and houses, not being spent on goods, services, plant and equipment. The money multiplier fell dramatically in many countries (see chart 1 for the case of the UK: click here for a PowerPoint) and there was virtually no growth in credit creation. Broad money in the UK (M4) has actually fallen since 2008 (see chart 2: click here for a PowerPoint), as it has in various other countries.
Additional monetary measures were put in place, including various schemes to provide money to banks for direct lending to companies or individuals. Central banks increasingly resorted to zero or negative interest rates paid to banks for deposits: see the blog posts Down down deeper and down, or a new Status Quo? and When a piggy bank pays a better rate. But still bank lending has stubbornly failed to take off.
Some indication that the ’emergency’ was coming to an end occurred in December 2015 when the US Federal Reserve raised interest rates by 0.25 percentage points. However, many commentators felt that that was too soon, especially in the light of slowing Chinese economic growth. Indeed, the Chinese authorities themselves have been engaging in a large scale QE programme and other measures to arrest this fall in growth.
Although it cut interest rates in 2009 (to 1% by May 2009), the ECB was more cautious than other central banks in the first few years after 2008 and even raised interest rates in 2011 (to 1.5% by July of that year). However, more recently it has been more aggressive in its monetary policy. It has progressively cut interest rates (see chart 3: click here for a PowerPoint) and announced in January 2015 that it was introducing a programme of QE, involving €60 billion of asset purchases for at least 18 months from March 2015. In December 2015, it announced that it would extend this programme for another six months.
The latest move by the ECB was on March 10, when it took three further sets of measures to boost the flagging eurozone economy. It cut interest rates, including cutting the deposit rate paid to banks from –0.3% to –0.4% and the main refinancing rate from –0.05% to –0%; it increased its monthly quantitative easing from €60 billion to €80 billion; and it announced unlimited four-year loans to banks at near-zero interest rates.
It would seem that the emergency continues!
QE, inflation and the BoE’s unreliable boyfriend: seven years of record low rates The Guardian, Katie Allen (5/3/16)
The End of Alchemy: Money, Banking and the Future of the Global Economy by Mervyn King – review The Observer, John Kampfner (14/3/16)
How ‘negative interest rates’ marked the end of central bank dominance The Telegraph, Peter Spence (21/2/16)
ECB stimulus surprise sends stock markets sliding BBC News (10/3/16)
5 Takeaways From the ECB Meeting The Wall Street Journal, Paul Hannon (10/3/16)
ECB cuts interest rates to zero amid fears of fresh economic crash The Guardian, Katie Allen and Jill Treanor (10/3/16)
Economists mixed on ECB stimulus CNBC, Elizabeth Schulze (10/3/16)
ECB’s Draghi plays his last card to stave off deflation The Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (10/3/16)
ECB cuts rates to new low and expands QE Financial Times, Claire Jones (10/3/16)
Is QE a saviour, necessary evil or the road to perdition? The Telegraph, Roger Bootle (20/3/16)
Monetary policy decisions ECB Press Release (10/3/16)
Introductory statement to the press conference (with Q&A) ECB Press Conference, Mario Draghi and Vítor Constâncio (10/3/16)
ECB Press Conference webcast ECB, Mario Draghi
- What are meant by narrow and broad money?
- What is the relationship between narrow and broad money? What determines the amount that broad money will increase when narrow money increases?
- Explain what is meant by (a) the credit multiplier and (b) the money multiplier.
- Explain how the process of quantitative easing is supposed to result in an increase in aggregate demand. How reliable is this mechanism?
- Find out and explain what happened to the euro/dollar exchange rate when Mario Draghi made the announcement of the ECB’s monetary measures on 10 March.
- Is there a conflict for central banks between trying to strengthen banks’ liquidity and reserves and trying to stimulate bank lending? Explain.
- Why are “the ECB’s policies likely to destroy half of Germany’s 1500 savings and co-operative banks over the next five years”? (See the Telegraph article.
- What are the disadvantages of quantitative easing?
- What are the arguments for and against backing up monetary policy with expansionary fiscal policy? Consider different forms that this fiscal policy might take.
The Federal Reserve chair, Janet Yellen, has been giving strong signals recently that the US central bank will probably raise interest rates at its December 16 meeting or, if not then, early in 2016. ‘Ongoing gains in the labor market’ she said, ‘coupled with my judgement that longer-term inflation expectations remain reasonably well anchored, serve to bolster my confidence in a return of inflation to 2%.’ This, as for many other central banks, is the target rate of inflation.
In anticipation of a rise in US interest rates, the dollar has been appreciating. Its (nominal) exchange rate index has risen by 24% since April 2014 (see chart below).
In the light of the sluggish eurozone economy, the ECB president, Mario Draghi, has been taking a very different stance. He has indicated that he stands ready to cut interest rates further and increase quantitative easing. At the meeting on 3 December, the ECB did just that. It announced a further cut in the deposit rate, from –0.2 to –0.3 and an extension of the €60 billion per month QE programme from September 2016 to March 2017 (bringing the total by that time to €1.5 trillion – up from €1.1 trillion by September 2016).
Stock market investors had been expecting more, including an increase in the level of monthly asset purchases above €60 billion. Consequently stock markets fell. Both the German DAX and the French CAC 40 stock market indices fell by 3.6%. The euro also appreciated against the dollar by 2.7% on the day of the announcement. Nevertheless, since April 2014, the euro exchange rate index has fallen by 13%. Against the US dollar, the euro has depreciated by a massive 31%.
So what will be the consequences of the very different monetary policies being pursued by the Fed and the ECB? Are they simply the desirable responses to a lack of convergence of the economic performance of the US and eurozone economies? In other words, will they help to bring greater convergence between the two economies?
Or will the desirable effects of convergence be offset by other undesirable effects for the USA and the eurozone and also for the rest of the world?
||Will huge amounts of dollar-denominated debt held by many emerging economies make it harder to service these debts with an appreciating dollar?
||How much will US exporters suffer from the dollar’s rise and what will the US authorities do about it?
||Will currency volatility lead to currency wars and, if so, what will be their economic effects?
||Will the time lags involved in the effects of the continuing programme of QE in the eurozone eventually lead to overheating? Already euro money supply is rising, on both narrow and broad measures.
The following articles address these issues.
The Fed and the ECB: when monetary policy diverges The Guardian, Mohamed El-Erian (2/12/15)
European stocks slide after ECB dashes hopes of major QE expansion The Guardian, Heather Stewart and Graeme Wearden (3/12/15)
Mario Draghi riles Germany with QE overkill The Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (3/12/15)
How the eurozone missed its shot at a recovery The Telegraph, Peter Spence (3/12/15)
Yellen Signals Economy Nearly Ready for First Interest-Rate Hike Bloomberg, Christopher Condon (3/12/15)
Exchange rate data
Effective exchange rate indices Bank for International Settlements
Exchange rates Bank of England
- What would be the beneficial effects to the US and eurozone economies of their respective monetary policies?
- Explain the exchange rate movements that have taken place between the euro and the dollar over the past 19 months. How do these relate to the various parts of the balance of payments accounts of the two economies?
- Is it possible for the USA to halt the rise in the dollar while at the same time raising interest rates? Explain.
- Why are some members of the ECB (e.g. the German and Dutch) against expanding QE? Assess their arguments.
- What will be the impact of US and eurozone monetary policies on emerging economies?
- What will be the impact of US and eurozone monetary policies on the UK?
- Why did the euro appreciate after the Mario Draghi’s press statement on 3 December? What has happened to the dollar/euro exchange rate since and why?
Mario Draghi, the ECB President, has indicated that the ECB is prepared to engage in further monetary stimulus. This is because of continuing weaknesses in the global economy and in particular in emerging markets.
Although the ECB at its meeting in Malta on 22 October decided to keep both interest rates and asset purchases (€60 billion per month) at current levels, Mario Draghi stated at the press conference that, at its next meeting on December 3rd, the ECB would be prepared to cut interest rates and re-examine the size, composition and duration of its quantitative easing programme. He stopped short, however, of saying that interest rates would definitely be cut or quantitative easing definitely increased. He said the following:
“The Governing Council has been closely monitoring incoming information since our meeting in early September. While euro area domestic demand remains resilient, concerns over growth prospects in emerging markets and possible repercussions for the economy from developments in financial and commodity markets continue to signal downside risks to the outlook for growth and inflation. Most notably, the strength and persistence of the factors that are currently slowing the return of inflation to levels below, but close to, 2% in the medium term require thorough analysis.
In this context, the degree of monetary policy accommodation will need to be re-examined at our December monetary policy meeting, when the new Eurosystem staff macroeconomic projections will be available. The Governing Council is willing and able to act by using all the instruments available within its mandate if warranted in order to maintain an appropriate degree of monetary accommodation.”
Mario Draghi also argued that monetary policy should be supported by fiscal policy and structural policies (mirroring Japan’s three arrows). Structural policies should include actions to improve the business environment, including the provision of an adequate public infrastructure. This is vital to “increase productive investment, boost job creation and raise productivity”.
As far as fiscal policies are concerned, these “should support the economic recovery, while remaining in compliance with the EU’s fiscal rules”. In other words, fiscal policy should be expansionary, while staying within the limits set by the Stability and Growth Pact.
His words had immediate effects in markets. Eurozone government bond yields dropped to record lows and the euro depreciated 3% against the US dollar over the following 24 hours.
ECB Press Conference on YouTube, Mario Draghi (22/10/15)
Draghi reloads bazooka FT Markets, Ferdinando Guigliano (22/10/15)
Mario Draghi: ECB prepared to cut interest rates and expand QE The Guardian, Heather Stewart (22/10/15)
Draghi signals ECB ready to extend QE Financial Times, Claire Jones and Elaine Moore (22/10/15)
Dovish Mario Draghi sends bond yields to new lows Financial Times, Katie Martin (23/10/15)
What Draghi Said on QE, Policy Outlook, Global Risks and Inflation Bloomberg, Deborah Hyde (22/10/15)
ECB set to ‘re-examine’ stimulus policy at next meeting BBC News (22/10/15)
The global economy warrants a big dose of caution The Guardian, Larry Elliott (25/10/15)
ECB Press Conference
Introductory statement to the press conference (with Q&A) ECB, Mario Draghi (President of the ECB), Vítor Constâncio (Vice-President of the ECB) (22/10/15)
- Why is the ECB considering further expansionary monetary policy?
- What monetary measures can a central bank use to stimulate aggregate demand?
- Explain the effects of Mario Draghi’s announcement on bond and foreign exchange markets.
- What are the objectives of ECB monetary policy according to the its mandate?
- Should the ECB consider using quantitative easing to provide direct funding for infrastructure projects?
- What constraints does the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact impose on eurozone countries?
- What are the arguments for and against (a) the Bank of England and (b) the US Federal Reserve engaging in further QE?
- If the ECB does engage in an expanded QE programme, what will determine its effectiveness?
If you asked virtually any banker or economist a few years ago whether negative (nominal) interest rates were possible, the answer would almost certainly be no.
Negative real interest rates have been common at many points in time – whenever the rate of inflation exceeds the nominal rate of interest. People’s debts and savings are eroded by inflation as the interest due or earned does not keep pace with rising prices.
But negative nominal rates? Surely this could never happen? It was generally believed that zero (or slightly above zero) nominal rates represented a floor – ‘a zero lower bound’.
The reasoning was that if there were negative nominal rates on borrowing, you would effectively be paid by the bank to borrow. In such a case, you might as well borrow as much as you can, as you would owe less later and could pocket the difference.
A similar argument was used with savings. If nominal rates were negative, savers might as well withdraw all their savings from bank accounts and hold them as cash (perhaps needing first to buy a safe!) Given, however, that this might be inconvenient and potentially costly, some people may be prepared to pay banks for looking after their savings.
Central bank interest rates have been hovering just above zero since the financial crisis of 2008. And now, some of the rates have turned negative (see chart above). The ECB has three official rates:
||The interest rate on the main refinancing operations (MRO), which provide the bulk of liquidity to the banking system.
||The rate on the deposit facility, which banks may use to make overnight deposits with the Eurosystem.
||The rate on the marginal lending facility, which offers overnight credit to banks from the Eurosystem.
The first of these is the most important rate and remains above zero – just. Since September 2014, it has been 0.05%. This rate is equivalent to the Bank of England’s Bank Rate (currently still 0.5%) and the Fed’s Federal Funds Rate (currently still between 0% and 0.25%).
The third of the ECB’s rates is currently 0.3%, but the second – the rate on overnight deposits in the ECB by banks in the eurozone – is currently –0.2%. In other words, banks have to pay the ECB for making these overnight deposits (deposits that can be continuously rolled over). The idea has been to encourage banks to lend rather than simply keeping unused liquidity.
In Nordic countries, the experiment with negative rates has gone further. With plenty of slack in the Swedish economy, negative inflation and an appreciating krona, the Swedish central bank – the Riksbank – cut its rates below zero.
Many City analysts believe that the Riksbank will continue cutting, reducing its key interest rate to minus 0.5% by the end of the year [it is currently 0.35%]. Switzerland’s is already deeper still, at minus 0.75%, while Denmark and the eurozone have joined them as members of the negative zone.
But the nominal interest rate on holding cash is, by definition, zero. If deposit rates are pushed below zero, then will more and more people hold cash instead? The hope is that negative nominal interest rates on bank accounts will encourage people to spend. It might, however, merely encourage them to hoard cash.
The article below from The Telegraph looks at some of the implications of an era of negative rates. The demand for holding cash has been increasing in many countries and, along with it, the supply of banknotes, as the chart in the article shows. Here negative interest are less effective. In Nordic countries, however, the use of cash is virtually disappearing. Here negative interest rates are likely to be more effective in boosting aggregate demand.
How Sweden’s negative interest rates experiment has turned economics on its head The Telegraph, Peter Spence (27/9/15)
Central bank and monetary authority websites Bank for International Settlements
Central banks – summary of current interest rates global-rates.com
- Distinguish between negative real and negative nominal interest rates.
- What is the opportunity cost of holding cash – the real or the nominal interest rate forgone by not holding it in a bank?
- Are there any dangers of central banks setting negative interest rates?
- Why may negative interest rates be more effective in Sweden than in the UK?
- ‘Andy Haldane, a member of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) … suggested that to achieve properly negative rates, the abolition of cash itself might be necessary.’ Why?
- Why does Switzerland have notes of SF1000 and the eurozone of €500? Should the UK have notes of £100 or even £500?
- Why do some banks charge zero interest rates on credit cards for a period of time to people who transfer their balances from another card? Is there any incentive for banks to cut interest rates on credit cards below zero?
It was argued in an earlier blog on the Greek debt crisis that a deus ex machina was needed to find a resolution to the impasse between Greece and its creditors. The most likely candidate for such as role was the IMF.
Three days before the Greek referendum on whether or not to accept the Troika’s proposals, the IMF has stepped onto the stage. To the undoubted surprise of the other two partners in the Troika (the European Commission and the ECB), the IMF argues that Greece’s debts are unsustainable and that much more is needed than a mere bailout (which simply rolls over the debt).
According to the IMF, Greece needs €52bn of extra funds between October 2015 and December 2018, large-scale debt relief, a 20-year grace period before making any debt repayments and then debt repayments spread over the following 20 years. In return, Greece should commit to supply-side reforms to cut out waste, reduce bureaucracy, improve tax collection methods and generally improve the efficiency of the economic system.
It would also have to agree to the previously proposed primary budget surplus (i.e. the budget surplus excluding debt repayments) of 1 per cent of GDP this year, rising to 3.5 per cent in 2018.
So it this what commentators have been waiting for? What will be the reaction of the Greeks and the other two partners in the Troika? We shall see.
IMF says Greece needs extra €50bn in funds and debt relief The Guardian. Phillip Inman, Larry Elliott and Alberto Nardelli (2/7/15)
IMF: 3rd Greek bailout would cost €52bn. Or more? Financial Times, Peter Spiegel (2/7/15)
IMF: Greece needs to reform for sustainable debt, financing needs rising CNBC, Everett Rosenfeld (2/7/15)
The IMF has made an obvious point about Greece’s huge debt. Here’s why it still matters Quartz, Jason Karaian (3/7/15)
Greece: when is it time to forgive debt? The Conversation, Jagjit Chadha (2/7/15)
Greece: Preliminary Draft Debt Sustainability Analysis IMF (2/7/15)
Preliminary Debt Sustainability Analysis for Greece IMF (25/6/15)
- To which organisations is Greece indebted? What form to the debts take?
- To what extent is Greece’s current debt burden the result of design faults of the euro?
- What are the proposals of the IMF? What effect will they have on the Greek economy if accepted?
- How would the IMF proposals affect aggregate demand (a) directly; (b) compared with the proposals previously on the table that Greece rejected on 26 June?
- What would be the effects of Greek exit from the euro (a) for Greece; (b) for other eurozone countries?
- What bargaining chips can Greece deploy in the negotiations?
- Explain what is meant by ‘moral hazard’. Where in possible outcomes to the negotiations may there be moral hazard?
- What has been the impact of Greek austerity measures on the distribution of income and wealth in Greece?
- What are the practicalities of pursuing supply-side policies in Greece without further dampening aggregate demand?