With the UK and eurozone economies in recession and with business and consumer confidence low, the Bank of England and the ECB have sprung into action.
The ECB has cut its main refinancing rate from 1% to an all-time low of 0.75%. Meanwhile, the Bank of England has embarked on a further round of quantitative easing (QE). The MPC voted to inject a further £50 billion through its asset purchase scheme, bring the total to £375 billion since QE began in March 2009.
And it is not just in Europe that monetary policy is being eased. In Australia and China interest rates have been cut. In the USA, there have been further asset purchases by the Fed and it is expected that the Japanese central bank will cut rates very soon, along with those in Korea, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
But with consumers seeming reluctant to spend and businesses being reluctant to invest, will the new money in the UK and elsewhere actually be lent and spent? Or will it simply sit in banks, boosting their liquidity base, but doing little if anything to boost aggregate demand?
And likewise in the eurozone, will a 25 basis point reduction in interest rates (i.e. a 0.25 percentage point reduction) do anything to boost borrowing and spending?
It is like pushing on a string – a term used by Keynesians to refer to the futile nature of monetary policy when people are reluctant to spend. Indeed the evidence over the past few years since QE started is that despite narrow money having risen massively, M4 lending has declined (see chart).
For a PowerPoint of the chart, click here.
The following articles look at the conundrum
Draghi-King Push May Mean Bigger Step Into Zero-Rate Era BloombergBusinessweek, Simon Kennedy (4/7/12)
QE and rate cut as central banks play stimulus card Independent, Ben Chu (6/7/12)
QE is welcome, but not enough Independent, Leader (6/7/12)
Interest rates cut to spur growth China Daily, Wang Xiaotian, Ding Qingfen and Gao Changxin (6/7/12)
Rate cuts shake global confidence Sydney Morning Herald, Eric Johnston, Clancy Yeates and Peter Cai (7/7/12)
Global Policy Easing Presses Asia to Cut Rates BloombergBusinessweek, Sharon Chen and Justina Lee (6/7/12)
Economic slowdown raises alarm in China, Europe Globe and Mail, Kevin Carmichael (5/7/12)
Bank of England sets sail with QE3 BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (5/7/12)
The twilight of the central banker The Economist (26/6/12)
The case for truly bold monetary policy Financial Times, Martin Wolf (28/6/12)
- Is the world economy in a liquidity trap?
- What advice would you give politicians around the world seeking to boost consumer and business confidence?
- Are we witnessing “The twilight of the central banker”? (See The Economist article above.)
- Explain the following extracts from the Martin Wolf article: “In a monetary system, based on fiat (or man-made) money, the state guarantees the money supply in the interests of the public. In normal times, however, actual supply is a byproduct of lending activities of banks. It is, in brief, the product of privately operated printing presses… In the last resort, the power to create money rests properly with the state. When private sector supply is diminishing, as now, the state not only can, but should, step in, with real urgency.”
- Should monetary policy in the UK be combined with fiscal policy in providing a stimulus at a time when the government can borrow ultra cheaply from the Bank of England? Does this apply to other governments around the world?
- Why did Asian share prices fall despite the stimulus?
Figures released by the Bank of England show that M4 fell by 5.0% in the year to March 2012. This record fall comes despite over £320 billion of assets purchased by the Bank under its quantitative easing programme. These are funded by the creation of reserves in the Bank of England. (See the Bank of England site for details of the timing and amounts of QE.)
Because of the considerable injection of new money into the banking system, notes and coin plus banks’ reserve balances in the Bank of England rose by 44.9%. So how is it that this measure of narrow money has increased massively and yet M4 has fallen?
One problem with using figures for changes in M4 to gauge economic activity is that they include intra-financial sector transactions – transactions between ‘other financial corporations’ (OFCs). Such transactions do not impact on the real economy. For this reason, the Bank of England prefers to focus on a measure that excludes these transactions between OFCs, a measure known as ‘M4 excluding intermediate OFCs’. This measure rose by 2.7% in the year to March 2012. Although this was positive, it was still weak.
So why does quantitative easing seem to be having such a small effect on bank lending? The following articles look at the issue.
Record collapse in UK money supply blamed on banks The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (2/5/12)
UK March mortgage approvals rise unexpectedly London South East (2/5/12)
UK March Net Consumer Lending +GBP1.4 Billion NASDAQ, Jason Douglas and Nicholas Winning (2/5/12)
M4 Hits Record Low; Non-Residents Sell Gilts Market News International (2/5/12)
Bankstats (Monetary & Financial Statistics) – March 2012 Bank of England (2/5/12): see Tables A1.1.1, A2.1.1 and A2.2.3
- How does quantitative easing impact on the narrow measure of money: notes, coin and banks’ reserve balances in the Bank of England?
- How might an increase in narrow money lead to an increase in broad money (such as M4)?
- How is it that notes, coin and banks’ reserve balances rose so rapidly in the year to March 2012, while M4 fell and even M4 excluding OFCs rose only slightly?
- Does this suggest that money supply is endogenous? Explain.
- How does requiring banks to rebuild their capital base impact on the relationship between narrow and broad money?
By measuring the size and growth of the money supply we can begin to assess the appetite for saving, spending, and borrowing by households and firms and the appetite amongst banks and building societies to supply credit. In this blog we use figures released by the Bank of England in Monetary and Financial Statistics (Bankstats) to begin such an assessment. But, of course, the very first problem we face is measuring the money supply: just what should be include in a measure of money?
One measure of money supply is known as M4. It is a broad measure of money reflecting our need to use money to make transactions, but also our desire to hold money as a store of wealth. According to the Bank of England’s figures the amount of M4 money at the end of October was £2.19 trillion. To put this into some context, the GDP figure for 2009 was £1.4 trillion, so the amount of M4 is equivalent to about 1½ times GDP.
What M4 measures is the stock of notes and coins and sterling-denominated deposits held by households, firms (non-financial corporations or NFCs) and other financial corporations (OFCs), such as insurance companies and pension funds. These groups are collectively referred to as the non-bank private sector or sometimes as the M4 private sector. As well as the deposits that most of us are familiar with, such as sight and time deposits, sterling-denominated deposits also include other less well known, but liquid financial products, such as repos (sale and repurchase agreements) and CDs (certificates of deposit). Repos are essentially secured loans, usually fairly short-term, where individuals or organisations can sell some of their financial assets, such as government debt, to banks in return for cash. Certificates of deposit are a form of time deposit where certificates are issued by banks to customers for usually large deposits for a fixed term.
The Bank of England’s figures also allow us to analyse the actual holdings of M4 by households, private non-financial corporations and other financial corporations. Consequently, we can analyse the source of these particular liabilities. Of the £2.19 trillion of M4 money at the end of October, 42% was attributable to OFCs, 11% to PNFCs and 47% to households. Interestingly, the average shares over the past 10 years have been 28% OFCs, 14% NFCs and 58% households. Therefore, there has been a shift in the share of banks’ M4 liabilities away from households and towards other financial corporations (OFCs).
So why the change in the composition of Sterling M4 liabilities held by the banking system? Part of the answer may well be attributable to Quantitative Easing (QE): the Bank of England’s £200 billion purchase of financial assets. It appears that a large part of this asset-purchase strategy has resulted in other financial corporations (OFCs) – our insurance companies and pension funds – exchanging assets like government bonds for cheques from the Bank of England. Of course, these cheques are deposited with commercial banks and the banks are then credited with funds from the Bank of England. A crucial question is whether these deposits have facilitated additional lending to households and firms and so created credit.
A major ‘counterpart’ to the private sector sterling liabilities that comprise M4 is sterling lending by banks to the non-bank private sector. Of particular interest, is lending to that bit of the private sector comprised by households and private non-financial corporations. The latest Bank of England figures show that in October net lending to households (including unincorporated businesses and non-profit making institutions) was £1.5 billion. This compares with a 10-year monthly average of close to £3.9 billion. Meanwhile, net lending to private non-financial corporations in October, which over the past 10 years has averaged just over £2.1 billion per month, was -£2.2 billion. The negative figure for PNFCs indicates that more debt was being repaid by firms to banks than was being borrowed.
The net lending figures indicate that lending by banks to households and firms remains incredibly subdued. This is not to say that QE has in any way failed since one cannot directly compare the current situation with that which would have resulted in the absence of QE. Rather, we note that the additional deposits created by QE do not appear to have fuelled large amounts of additional credit and, in turn, further deposits fuelling further credit. The limited amount of credit creation for households and private non-financial corporations helps to explain the relatively slow growth in the stock of M4 held by households and PNFCs. While the stock of M4 increased by 6% in the year to October from £2.06 trillion last year, the stock held by households and PNFCs grew by around 2½%.
It is of course difficult to fully appreciate the extent to which the subdued lending numbers reflect restricted bank lending despite QE, or the desire for households and firms to improve their respective financial positions. One could argue that both are a symptom of the same thing: the desire for banks, households and firms alike to be less susceptible to debt. Clearly, these balance sheet effects will continue to have a large impact on the economy’s activity levels.
Business loans and mortgage approvals falls Financial Times, Norma Cohen (29/11/10)
UK mortgage approvals fall, M4 at record low on yr – BOE MarketNews.Com (29/11/10
Drop in mortgage approval levels The Herald, Mark Williamson (29/11/10)
Mortgage approvals dip to eight-month low Independent, Sean O’Grady (30/11/10)
Mortgage approvals fall to six month low BBC News (29/11/10)
Gross lending up £1 billion in October Mortgage Introducer, Sarah Davidson (29/11/10)
M4 statistics are available from the Bank of England’s statistics publication, Monetary and Financial Statistics (Bankstats) (See Tables in Section A.)
- What do you understand by a narrow and a broad measure of the money supply? Which of these describes the M4 measure? Explain your answer.
- What other liabilities do you think might be included on the balance sheet of the UK’s banking system which are not included in M4?
- What do you understand by credit creation? Explain how the exchange by OFCs (e.g. insurance companies and pension funds) of government debt for cheques from the Bank of England could facilitate credit creation?
- What factors can affect the extent of credit creation by banks? How might these have affected the ability of QE to get banks lending again.
- What is meant by net lending? And, what does a negative net lending figure show?
- What do you understand by ‘balance sheet effects’? Illustrate with respect to households, firms and banks.
Since March 2009, the Bank of England has engaged in a process of quantitative easing (QE). Over the period to January 2010 the Bank of England injected £200 billion of new money into the economy by purchasing assets from the private sector, mainly government bonds. The assets were purchased with new money, which enters the economy as credits to the accounts of those selling the assets to the Bank of England. This increase in narrow money (the monetary base) is then able to form the basis of credit creation, allowing broad money (M4) to increase by a multiple of the increased monetary base. In other words, injecting £200 billion allows M4 to increase by considerably more.
But just how much more will M4 rise? How big is the money multiplier? This depends on the demand for loans from banks, which in turn depends on the confidence of business and households. With the recovery only just beginning, demand is still very dampened. Credit creation also depends on the willingess of banks to lend. But this too has been dampened by banks’ desire to increase liquidity and expand their capital base in the wake of the credit crunch.
Not surprisingly, the growth in M4 has been sluggish. Between March and Decmber 2009, narrow money (notes, coin and banks’ reserve balances in the Bank of England) grew from £91bn to £203bn (an increase of 123%). M4, however, grew from £2011bn to £2048bn: an increase of only 1.8%. In fact, in December it fell back from £2069bn in November.
Despite the continued sluggishness of the economy, at its February meeting the Bank of England announced an end to further quantitiative easing – at least for the time being. Although Bank Rate would be kept on hold at 0.5%, there would be no further injections of money. Part of the reason for this is that there is still considerable scope for a growth in broad money on the basis of the narrow money already created. If QE were to continue, there could be excessive broad money in a few months’ time and that could push inflation well above target. As it is, rising costs have already pushed inflation above the 2% target (see Too much of a push from costs but no pull from demand).
So will this be an end to quantitative easing? The following articles explore the question.
Bank of England halts quantitative easing Guardian, Ashley Seager (4/2/10)
Bank calls time on quantitative easing (including video) Telegraph, Edmund Conway (5/2/10)
Bank of England’s time-out for quantitative easing plan BBC News (4/2/10)
Shifting goalposts keep final score in question Financial Times, Chris Giles and Jessica Winch (5/2/10)
Bank halts QE at £200bn despite ‘sluggish’ recovery Independent, Sean O’Grady (5/2/10)
Easy does it: No further QE BBC News blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (4/2/10)
Leading article: Easing off – but only for now Independent (5/2/10)
Not easy Times Online (5/2/10)
Quantitative easing: What the economists say Guardian (4/2/10)
- Explain how quantitative easing works?
- What determines the rate of growth of M4?
- Why has the Bank of England decided to call a halt to quantiative easing – at least for the time being?
- What is the transmission mechanism whereby an increase in the monetary base affects real GDP?
- What role does the exchange rate play in the transmission mechanism?
- Why is it difficult to predict the effect of an increase in the monetary base on real GDP?
- What will determine whether or not the Bank of England will raise interest rates in a few months’ time?