After promises made back in July 2012 that the ECB will ‘do whatever it takes’ to protect the eurozone economy, the ECB has at last done just that. It has launched a large-scale quantitative easing programme. It will create new money to buy €60 billion of assets every month in the secondary market.
Around €10 billion will be private-sector securities that are currently being purchased under the asset-backed securities purchase programme (ABSPP) and the covered bond purchase programme (CBPP3), which were both launched late last year. The remaining €50 billion will be public-sector assets, mainly bonds of governments in the eurozone. This extended programme of asset purchases will begin in March this year and continue until at least September 2016, bringing the total of asset purchased by that time to over €1.1 trillion.
The ECB has taken several steps towards full QE over the past few months, including €400 billion of targeted long-term lending to banks, cutting interest rates to virtually zero (and below zero for the deposit rate) and the outright purchase of private-sector assets. But all these previous moves failed to convince markets that they would be enough to stimulate recovery and stave off deflation. Hence the calls for full quantitative easing became louder and it was widely anticipated that the ECB would finally embark on the purchase of government bonds – in other words, would finally adopt a programme of QE similar to those adopted in the USA (from 2008), the UK (from 2009) and Japan (from 2010).
Rather than the ECB buying the government bonds centrally, each of the 19 national central banks (NCBs), which together with the ECB constitute the Eurosystem, will buy their own nation’s bonds. The amount they will buy will depend on their capital subscriptions the eurozone. For example, the German central bank will buy German bonds amounting to 25.6% of the total bonds purchased by national central banks. France’s share will be 20.1% (i.e. French bonds constituting 20.1% of the total), Spain’s share will be 12.6% and Malta’s just 0.09%.
Central banks of countries that are still in bail-out programmes will not be eligible to purchase their countries’ assets while their compliance with the terms of the bailout is under review (as is the case currently with Greece).
The risk of government default on their bonds will be largely (80%) covered by the individual countries’ central banks, not by the central banks collectively. Only 20% of bond purchases will be subject to risk sharing between member states according to their capital subscription percentages: the ECB will directly purchase 8% of government bonds and 12% will be bonds issued by European institutions rather than countries. As the ECB explains it:
With regard to the sharing of hypothetical losses, the Governing Council decided that purchases of securities of European institutions (which will be 12% of the additional asset purchases, and which will be purchased by NCBs) will be subject to loss sharing. The rest of the NCBs’ additional asset purchases will not be subject to loss sharing. The ECB will hold 8% of the additional asset purchases. This implies that 20% of the additional asset purchases will be subject to a regime of risk sharing.
As with the QE programmes in the USA, the UK and Japan, the transmission mechanism is indirect. The assets purchased will be from financial institutions, who will thus receive the new money. The bond purchases and the purchases of assets by financial institutions with the acquired new money will drive up asset prices and hence drive down long-term interest rates. This, hopefully, will stimulate borrowing and increase aggregate demand and hence output, employment and prices.
The ECB will buy bonds issued by euro area central governments, agencies and European institutions in the secondary market against central bank money, which the institutions that sold the securities can use to buy other assets and extend credit to the real economy. In both cases, this contributes to an easing of financial conditions.
In addition, there is an exchange rate transmission mechanism. To the extent that the extra money is used to purchase non-eurozone assets, so this will drive down the euro exchange rate. This, in turn, will boost the demand for eurozone exports and reduce the demand for imports to the eurozone. This, again, represents an increase in aggregate demand.
The extent to which people will borrow more depends, of course, on confidence that the eurozone economy will expand. So far, the response of markets suggests that such confidence will be there. But we shall have to wait to see if the confidence is sustained.
But even if QE does succeed in stimulating aggregate demand, there remains the question of the competitiveness of eurozone economies. Some people are worried, especially in Germany, that the boost given by QE will reduce the pressure on countries to engage in structural reforms – reforms that some people feel are vital for long-term growth in the eurozone
The articles consider the responses to QE and assess its likely impact.
Previous blog posts
- Why has the ECB been reluctant to engage in full QE before now?
- How has the ECB answered the objections of strong eurozone countries, such as Germany, to taking on the risks associated with weaker countries?
- What determines the amount by which aggregate demand will rise following a programme of asset purchases?
- In what ways and to what extent will non-eurozone countries benefit or lose from the ECB’s decision?
- Are there any long-term dangers to the eurozone economy of the ECB’s QE programme? If so, how might they be tackled?
- Why did the euro plummet on the ECB’s announcement? Why had it not plummeted before the announcement, given that the introduction of full QE was widely expected?
As we saw in the blog post last month, Eurozone becalmed the doldrums, the eurozone economy is stagnant and there is a growing danger that it could sink into a deflationary spiral. Last month, several new measures were announced by the ECB, including a negative interest rate on money deposited in the ECB by banks in the eurozone. This month, the ECB has gone further including, for the first time, a form of quantitative easing.
So what has been announced, and will it help to kick-start the eurozone economy? The measures were summarised by Mario Draghi, President of the ECB, at a press conference as follows:
The Governing Council decided today to lower the interest rate on the main refinancing operations of the Eurosystem by 10 basis points to 0.05% and the rate on the marginal lending facility by 10 basis points to 0.30%. The rate on the deposit facility was lowered by 10 basis points to –0.20%. In addition, the Governing Council decided to start purchasing non-financial private sector assets.
The Eurosystem will purchase a broad portfolio of simple and transparent asset-backed securities (ABSs) with underlying assets consisting of claims against the euro area non-financial private sector under an ABS purchase programme (ABSPP). This reflects the role of the ABS market in facilitating new credit flows to the economy and follows the intensification of preparatory work on this matter, as decided by the Governing Council in June. In parallel, the Eurosystem will also purchase a broad portfolio of euro-denominated covered bonds issued by MFIs domiciled in the euro area under a new covered bond purchase programme (CBPP3). Interventions under these programmes will start in October 2014.
To summarise: the ECB has cut interest rates, with the main rate cut to virtually zero (i.e. 0.05%). This represents a floor to interest rates, as, according to Mario Draghi, there is now no scope for further cuts. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)
In addition, the ECB will begin the outright purchase of private-sector securities. This is a form of quantitative easing as it will involve the purchase of assets with newly created money. In the past, the ECB has simply offered loans to banks, with assets owned by banks used as collateral. This form of quantitative easing has been dubbed ‘QE light’, as it does not involve the purchase of government bonds, something the German government in particular has resisted. The ECB recognises that it would be a sensitive matter to buy government bonds of countries, such as Greece, Spain and Cyprus, which have been criticised for excessive borrowing.
Nevertheless, if it involves the creation of new money, purchasing private-sector assets is indeed a form of QE. As Mario Draghi said in response to a question on this matter:
QE is an outright purchase of assets. To give an example: rather than accepting these assets as collateral for lending, the ECB would outright purchase these assets. That’s QE. It would inject money into the system. Now, QE can be private-sector asset-based, or also sovereign-sector, public-sector asset-based, or both. The components of today’s measures are predominantly oriented to credit easing. However, it’s quite clear that we would buy outright ABS only if there is a guarantee.
So with appropriate guarantees in place about the soundness of these securitised assets, the ECB will purchase them outright.
But will these measures be enough? Time will tell, but there are now several measures in the pipeline, which could see a large stimulus to bank lending. The main question is whether banks will indeed take the opportunity to lend or merely hoard the extra reserves. And that depends in large part on the demand for credit from businesses and consumers. Boosting that is difficult when the economic climate is pessimistic.
Draghi’s ECB surprise puts off bigger quantitative easing for now Reuters, John O’Donnell (5/9/14)
ECB President Mario Draghi pulls stimulus lever at last, but still no quantitative easing for eurozone Independent, Ben Chu (5/9/14)
ECB cuts rates and launches stimulus programme BBC News (4/9/14)
Draghi Push for ECB Easing Intensifies Focus on ABS Plan Bloomberg, Stefan Riecher and Jeff Black (4/9/14)
Draghi Sees Almost $1 Trillion Stimulus as QE Fight Waits Bloomberg, Simon Kennedy (5/9/14)
Draghi’s Case For ECB Quantitative Easing Forbes, Jon Hartley (8/9/14)
ECB’s last roll of the dice BBC News, Robert Peston (4/9/14)
Draghi’s eurozone steroids BBC News, Robert Peston (2/10/14)
Draghinomics – Abenomics, European-style The Guardian, Nouriel Roubini (1/9/14)
ECB Press Release
Introductory statement to the press conference (with Q&A) European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, President of the ECB (4/9/14)
Webcast of the press conference 4 September 2014 European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, President of the ECB (4/9/14)
- Summarise the ECB’s monetary policy measures that will be coming into effect over the coming months.
- How does the QE announced by Mario Draghi differ from the QE that has been used by the Bank of England?
- Would it be a realistic option for the ECB to reduce its main rate below zero, just as it did with the deposit facility rate?
- What is meant by ‘securitisation’. Explain how asset-backed securities (ABSs) and covered bonds are forms of securitised assets.
- Why will the purchase of mortgage-backed securities not necessarily give a boost to the housing market?
- How does the effectiveness of any QE programme depend on what happens to the velocity of circulation of created money?
- What determines this velocity of circulation?
- Why are ‘animal spirits’ so important in determining the effectiveness of monetary policy?
- Are there any moral hazards in the ECB actions? If so what are they?
In August 2012, the ECB president, Mario Draghi, said that the ECB would ‘do whatever it takes‘ to hold the single currency together and support the weaker economies, such as Greece, Portugal and Spain. At the same time, he announced the introduction of outright monetary purchases (OMTs), which would involve purchasing eurozone countries’ bonds in the secondary markets. There were no limits specified to such purchases, but they would be sterilised by the sale of other assets. In other words, they would not increase the eurozone money supply. But despite the fanfare when OMTs were announced, they have never been used.
Today, the eurozone economy is struggling to grow. The average annual growth rate across the eurozone is a mere 0.5%, albeit up from the negative rates up to 2013 Q3. GDP is still over 2% below the peak in 2008. Inflation is currently standing at 0.8%, well below the 2% target. The ECB’s interest rate (‘main refinancing operations rate’) is 0.25%.
The recovery is hindered by a strong euro. As the chart shows, the euro has been appreciating against the dollar. The euro exchange rate index has also been rising. This has made it harder for the eurozone countries to export.
So what can the ECB do to stimulate the eurozone economy? Other central banks, such as the Bank of England, the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan have all had substantial programmes of quantitative easing. The ECB has not. Perhaps OMTs could be used without sterilisation. The problem here is that there are no eurozone bonds issued by the ECB and hence none that could be purchased, only the bonds of individual member countries. Buying bonds of weaker countries in the eurozone would be seen as favouring these countries and might create a moral hazard.
Reducing interest rates is hardly an option given that they are at virtually zero already. And expansionary fiscal policy in the weaker countries has been ruled out by having to stick to the bailout conditions for these countries, which require the pursuit of austerity policies.
One possibility would be to intervene in the foreign currency market by buying US and other countries’ bonds. This would drive down the euro and provide a stimulus to exports. This option is considered in the Jeffrey Frankel article.
Why the European Central Bank should buy American The Guardian, Jeffrey Frankel (13/3/14)
Draghi holds course in face of deflation threat Reuters, Paul Carrel and Leika Kihara (13/3/14)
ECB’s Draghi: Strong Euro Pulling Down Euro Zone Inflation Wall Street Journal, Christopher Lawton and Todd Buell (13/3/14)
Draghi Bolstering Guidance Seen as Convincing on Rates Bloomberg, Jeff Black and Andre Tartar (13/3/14)
ECB president Mario Draghi counters euro upswing Financial Times, Claire Jones (13/3/14)
Turning Japanese? Euro zone exporters must hope not Reuters, Neal Kimberley (14/3/14)
Prospect of ECB QE drives eurozone bond rally Financial Times, Laurence Mutkin (12/3/14)
Statistical Data Warehouse ECB
Winter forecast 2014 – EU economy: recovery gaining ground European Commission: Economic and Financial Affairs DG
AMECO online European Commission: Economic and Financial Affairs DG
- Why is the ECB generally opposed to quantitative easing of the type used by other central banks?
- What is meant by ‘sterilisation’? Why does sterilisation prevent OMTs being classed as a form of quantitative easing?
- Would it be possible for OMTs to be used without sterilisation in such as way as to avoid a moral hazard for the highly indebted eurozone countries?
- Is the eurozone in danger of experiencing deflation?
- What are the dangers of deflation?
- Why does the ECB not cut its main refinancing rate below zero?
- If the ECB buys US bonds, what effect would this have on the euro/dollar exchange rate?
- Would purchasing US bonds affect the eurozone money supply? Explain.
- What other means are there of the ECB stimulating the eurozone economy? How effective would they be likely to be?
The ECB president, Mario Draghi, has announced a new programme of ‘Outright Monetary Transactions (OMTs)’ to ease the difficulties of countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy. The idea is to push down interest rates for these countries’ bonds. If successful, this will make it more affordable for them to service their debts.
OMTs involve the ECB buying these countries’ bonds on the secondary market (i.e. existing bonds). This will be limited to bonds with no more than three years to maturity. Although restricting purchases to the secondary market would not involve the ECB lending directly to these countries, the bond purchases should push down interest rates on the secondary market and this, in turn, should allow the countries to issue new bonds at lower rates on the primary market.
The OMT programme replaces the previous Securities Markets Programme (SMP), which began in May 2010. This too involved purchasing bonds on the secondary market. By the time of the last actions under SMP in January 2012, €212 billion of purchases had been made. Unlike the SMP, however, OMTs are in principle unlimited, with the ECB president, Mario Draghi, saying that the ECB would do ‘whatever it takes’ to hold the single currency together. This means that it will buy as many bonds on the market as are necessary to bring interest rates down to sustainable levels.
Critics, however, argue that this will still not be enough to stimulate the eurozone economy and help bring countries out of recession. They give two reasons.
The first is that OMTs differ from the quantitative easing programmes used in the UK and USA. OMTs would not increase the eurozone money supply as the ECB would sell other assets to offset the bond purchases. This process is known as ‘sterilisation’, which is defined as actions taken by a central bank to offset the effects of foreign exchange flows or its own bond transactions so as to leave money supply unchanged.
The second reason is that OMTs will be conducted only if countries stick to previously agreed strong austerity measures. This is something that it looking increasingly unlikely as protests against the cuts mount in countries such as Greece and Spain.
Super Mario to the rescue Financial Standard, Benjamin Ong (7/9/12)
Outright monetary transactions: Lowdown on bond-buying scheme Irish Times, Dan O’Brien (7/9/12)
Draghi comments at ECB news conference Reuters (6/9/12)
ECB’s Mario Draghi unveils bond-buying euro debt plan BBC News (6/9/12)
ECB Market Intervention: Outright Monetary Transactions (“OMT”) – A Preliminary Assessment Place du Luxembourg (9/9/12)
Evaluating the OMT: OrlMost Too late? Social Europe Journal, Andrew Watt (7/9/12)
Mario Draghi speech: what the analysts said The Telegraph (6/9/12)
ECB challenges German concern over bond-buying Irish Times, Derek Scally (26/9/12)
Draghi: efforts helping to support stable future MarketWatch, Tom Fairless (25/9/12)
Mario and Mariano versus the man with the beard BBC News, Paul Mason (6/9/12)
Good week for the euro – but also a warning BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (12/9/12)
The price of saving the eurozone BBC News, Robert Peston (26/9/12)
Special Report – Inside Mario Draghi’s euro rescue plan Reuters, Paul Carrel, Noah Barkin and Annika Breidthardt (25/9/12)
ECB to face biggest test on euro gambit Financial Times, Michael Steen and Peter Spiegel (25/9/12)
ECB: Monetary policy decisions ECB Press Release, (6/9/12)
- What are the key features of the OMT programme? How does it differ from the former Securities Markets Programme (SMP)?
- In what ways does the OMT programme differ from the quantitative easing programmes in the USA and UK?
- How will the ECB’s buying bonds in the secondary market influence the primary bond market? What will influence the size of the effect?
- How does sterilisation work in (a) the bond market; (b) the foreign exchange market?
- Why is it claimed that the OMT programme is a necessary but not sufficient condition for solving the crisis in the eurozone? What additional measures would you recommend and why?
- What are the risks associated with the OMT programme?