‘There is no magic money tree’, said Theresa May on several occasions during the 2017 election campaign. The statement was used to justify austerity policies and to criticise calls for increased government expenditure.
But, in one sense, money is indeed fruit of the magic money tree. There is no fixed stock of money, geared to the stock of gold or some other commodity. Money is created – as if by magic. And most of broad money is not created by government or the central bank. Rather it is created by banks as they use deposits as the basis for granting loans, which become money as they are redeposited in the banking system. Banks are doing this magic all the time – creating more and more money trees as the forest grows. As the Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin explains:
Whenever a bank makes a loan, it simultaneously creates a matching deposit in the borrower’s bank account, thereby creating new money.
However, most of the country’s MPs are unaware of this process of money creation. As the linked Guardian article below states:
Responding to a survey commissioned by Positive Money just before the June election, 85% were unaware that new money was created every time a commercial bank extended a loan, while 70% thought that only the government had the power to create new money.
And yet the role of money and monetary policy is central to many debates in Parliament about the economy. It is disturbing to think that policy debates could be based on misunderstanding. Perhaps MPs would do well to study basic monetary economics! After all, credit creation is not a difficult topic.
Positive Money poll
- Do central banks create money and, if so, what form(s) does it take?
- Explain how credit creation works.
- What determines the amount of credit that banks create?
- How can the central bank influence the amount of credit created?
- Distinguish between narrow and broad money supply.
- What is the relationship between government spending and broad money supply (M4 in the UK)?
- Why is there no simple money multiplier whereby total broad money supply is a simple and predictable multiple of narrow money?
- What determines the relationship between money supply and real output?
- Does it matter what type of lending is financed by money creation?
- Comment on the statement: “The argument marshalled against social investment such as education, welfare and public services, that it is unaffordable because there is no magic money tree, is nonsensical.”
- Could quantitative easing be used to finance social investment? Would there be any dangers in the process?
The US Federal Reserve, like many other central banks, engaged in massive quantitative easing in the wake of the financial crisis of 2007/8. Over three rounds, QE1, QE2 and QE3, it accumulated $4.5 trillion of assets – mainly government bonds and mortgage-backed securities (see chart below: click here for a PowerPoint). But, unlike its counterparts in the UK, the eurozone and Japan, it has long ceased its programme of asset purchases.. In October 2014, it announced that QE was at an end. All that would be done in future would be to replace existing holdings of assets as they matured, keeping total holdings roughly constant.
But now this policy is set to change. The Fed is about to embark on a programme of ‘quantitative tightening’, already being dubbed ‘QT’. This involves the Fed reducing its holdings of assets, mainly government bonds and government-backed mortgage-related securities.
This, however, for the time being will not include selling its holding of bonds or mortgage-backed securities. Rather, it will simply mean not buying new assets to replace ones when they mature, or only replacing part of the them. This was discussed by the 75 participants at the joint meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) and Board of Governors on 14–15 March.
As the minutes put it: “Many participants emphasized that reducing the size of the balance sheet should be conducted in a passive and predictable manner.”
A more active form of QT would involve selling assets before maturity and thus reducing the size of the Fed’s balance sheet more rapidly. But either way, reducing assets would put downward pressure on the money supply and support the higher interest rates planned by the FOMC.
The question is whether there is enough liquidity elsewhere in the system and enough demand for credit, and willingness of the banking system to supply credit, to allow a sufficient growth in broad money – sufficient, that is, to support continued growth in the economy. The answer to that question depends on confidence. The Fed, not surprisingly, is keen not to damage confidence and hence prefers a gradualist approach to reducing its holdings of assets bought during the various rounds of quantitative easing.
Fed’s asset shift to pose new test of economy’s recovery, resilience Reuters, Howard Schneider and Richard Leong (6/4/17)
Federal Reserve likely to begin cutting back $4.5 trillion balance sheet this year Washington Post, Ana Swanson (5/4/17)
Why the Fed’s debate about shrinking its balance sheet really, really matters Money Observer, Russ Mould (7/4/17)
The Fed and ECB keep a cautious eye on the exit Financial Times (7/4/17)
Get ready for the Fed’s next scary policy change CBS Money Watch, Anthony Mirhaydari (5/4/17)
The Fed wants to start shrinking its $4.5 trillion balance sheet later this year Business Insider, Akin Oyedele (5/4/17)
Inside the Fed’s March Meeting: The Annotated Minutes Bloomberg, Luke Kawa, Matthew Boesler and Alex Harris (5/4/17)
QE was great for asset prices – will ‘QT’ smash them? The Financial Review (Australia), Patrick Commins (7/4/17)
Shrinking the Fed’s balance sheet Brookings, Ben Bernanke (26/1/17)
Selected data Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
- Distinguish between active and passive QT.
- If QE is a form of expansionary monetary policy, is QT a form of contractionary monetary policy?
- Could QT take place alongside an expansion of broad money?
- What dangers lie in the Fed scaling back its holdings of government (Treasury) bonds and mortgage-backed securities?
- Why is it unlikely that the Fed will reduce its holdings of securities to pre-crisis levels?
- Why are the Bank of England, the ECB and the Bank of Japan still pursuing a policy of QE?
- What are the implications for exchange rates of QT in the USA and QE elsewhere?
- Find out data for the monetary base, for narrow money (M1) and broader money (M2) in the USA. Are narrow and/or broad money correlated with Federal Reserve asset holdings?
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 mood has changed in international markets. Investors are becoming more pessimistic about recovery in the world economy and of the likely direction of share prices. Concern has centred on the Chinese economy. Forecasts are for slower Chinese growth (but still around 5 to 7 per cent) and worries centre on the impact of this on the demand for other countries’ exports.
The Chinese stock market has been undergoing turmoil over the past few weeks, and this has added to jitters on other stock markets around the world. Between the 5th and 24th of August, the FTSE 100 fell by 12.6%, from 6752 to 5898; the German DAX fell by 17.1% from 11,636 to 9648 and the US DOW Jones by 10.7% from 17,546 to 15,666. Although markets have recovered somewhat since, they are very volatile and well below their peaks earlier this year.
But are investors right to be worried? Will a ‘contagion’ spread from China to the rest of the world, and especially to its major suppliers of raw materials, such as Australia, and manufactured exports, such as the USA and Germany? Will other south-east Asian countries continue to slow? Will worries lead to continued falls in stock markets as pessimism becomes more entrenched? Will this then impact on the real economy and lead then to even further falls in share prices and further falls in aggregate demand?
Or will the mood of pessimism evaporate as the Chinese economy continues to grow, albeit at a slightly slower rate? Indeed, will the Chinese authorities introduce further stimulus measures (see the News items What a devalued yuan means to the rest of the world and The Shanghai Stock Exchange: a burst bubble?), such as significant quantitative easing (QE)? Has the current slowing in China been caused, at least in part, by a lack of expansion of the monetary base – an issue that the Chinese central bank may well address?
Will other central banks, such as the Fed and the Bank of England, delay interest rate rises? Will the huge QE programme by the ECB, which is scheduled to continue at €60 billion until at least September 2016, give a significant boost to recovery in Europe and beyond?
The following articles explore these questions.
The Guardian view on China’s meltdown: the end of a flawed globalisation The Guardian, Editorial (1/9/15)
Central banks can do nothing more to insulate us from the Asian winter The Guardian, Business leader (6/9/15)
Where are Asia’s economies heading BBC News, Karishma Vaswani (4/9/15)
How China’s cash injections add up to quantitative squeezing The Economist (7/9/14)
Nouriel Roubini dismisses China scare as false alarm, stuns with optimism The Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (4/9/15)
Markets Are Too Pessimistic About Chinese Growth Bloomberg, Nouriel Roubini (4/9/15)
World Economic Outlook databases IMF: see, for example, data on China, including GDP growth forecasts.
Market Data Yahoo: see, for example, FTSE 100 data.
- How do open-market operations work? Why may QE be described as an extreme form of open-market operations?
- Examine whether or not the Chinese authorities have been engaging in monetary expansion or monetary tightening.
- Is an expansion of the monetary base necessary for there to be a growth in broad money?
- Why might the process of globalisation over the past 20 or so years be described a ‘flawed’?
- Why have Chinese stock markets been so volatile in recent weeks? How seriously should investors elsewhere take the large falls in share prices on the Chinese markets?
- Would it be fair to describe the Chinese economy as ‘unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable’?
- What is the outlook over the next couple of years for Asian economies? Explain.
- For what reasons might stock markets have overshot in a downward direction?
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?