The eurozone recorded 0.0% growth in the second quarter of 2014. While the UK and USA are now experiencing relatively buoyant economic growth, the eurozone as a whole is stagnating. Some of the 18 eurozone countries, it is true, are now growing, including Spain, Portugal, Ireland and the Netherlands. But the German and Italian economies contracted in the three months to the end of June, while France experienced zero growth.
This will put growing pressure on the ECB to introduce quantitative easing (QE) through the direct purchase of government bonds or other assets. Although this has been a key policy of many central banks, including the Bank of England, the Fed and the Bank of Japan, up to now the ECB has focused mainly on providing cheap funds to banks to encourage them to lend and keeping interest rates very low.
In June, the ECB did announce that it would explore the possibility of QE. It would also introduce €400 billion worth of targeted long-term lending to banks (targeted longer-term refinancing operations (TLTROs)), and would cease sterilising the extra liquidity injected through the Securities Markets Programme, which involved the purchase of existing bonds on the secondary market.
These plans and their implications are examined in the blog post, The ECB: tackling the threat of deflation.
But even if it does eventually introduce QE, this is unlikely before 2015. However, the first €200 billion of TLTROs will be introduced in September and the remaining €200 billion in December. The ECB hopes that these measures in the pipeline will give a sufficient stimulus to rekindle economic growth. But increasingly there are calls for something more dramatic to be done to prevent the eurozone as a whole slipping back into recession.
Eurozone economy grinds to halt even before Russia sanctions bite Reuters, Michelle Martin and Martin Santa (14/8/14)
ECB under pressure to boost growth, analysts say BBC News (14/8/14)
Eurozone growth at zero as Germany slumps, France stagnates Deutsche Welle (14/8/14)
Eurozone crisis: The grim economic reality BBC News, Gavin Hewitt (14/8/14)
Eurozone growth splutters to a halt as crisis enters new phase The Guardian, Larry Elliott (14/8/14)
Eurozone can learn from George Osborne and Bank of England stimulus The Guardian, Larry Elliott (14/8/14)
Broken Europe: economic growth grinds to a standstill The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (14/8/14)
One-in-three chance the ECB conducts quantitative easing next year – Reuters Poll Reuters, Sumanta Dey (13/8/14)
Eurozone’s Unravelling Recovery: What’s Going Wrong Across Troubled Currency Bloc International Business Times, Finbarr Bermingham (14/8/14)
France calls on ECB to act as eurozone growth grinds to a halt The Guardian, Larry Elliott (14/8/14)
That sinking feeling (again) The Economist (30/8/14)
GDP stable in the euro area and up by 0.2% in the EU28 eurostat euroindicators (14/8/14)
Statistics Pocket Book ECB
European Economy: links to data sources Economics Network
Euro area economic and financial data ECB
- Explain how quantitative easing works.
- Why has the ECB been reluctant to introduce QE?
- What is meant by sterilisation? Why did the ECB sterilise the effects of the assets purchased under the Securities Markets Programme? Why did it cease doing this in June?
- How have events in Ukraine and political reactions to them influenced the eurozone economy?
- Should QE be ‘fast tracked’? Would there be any dangers in this?
- What is the ‘Funding for Lending’ scheme in the UK? Is the planned introduction of TLTROs similar to Funding for Lending?
‘Deflation could be replacing debt as the main problem – and there’s nothing to suggest the ECB is up to the job.’ So begins the linked article below by Barry Eichengreen, Professor of Economics and Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley.
The good news in this is that worries about debt in eurozone countries are gradually receding. Indeed, this week Ireland officially ended its reliance on a bailout (of €67.5 billion) from the EU and IMF and regained financial sovereignty (see also).
The bad news is that this does not mark the end of austerity. Indeed, many eurozone countries could get stuck in a deflationary trap, with austerity policies continuing to depress aggregate demand. Eurozone inflation is less than 1% and falling. Broad money supply growth is now below that of the US dollar, the yen and sterling (see chart: click here for a PowerPoint).
The ECB has been far more cautious than central banks in other countries in acting to prevent recession and deflation. Unlike the USA, Japan and the UK, which have all engaged in extensive quantitative easing, the ECB had been reluctant to do so for fear of upsetting German opinion and taking the pressure off southern European countries to reform.
But as Eichengreen points out, the dangers of inaction could be much greater. What is more, quantitative easing is not the only option. The ECB could copy the UK approach of ‘funding for lending’ – not for housing, but for business.
Europe’s economic crisis could be mutating again The Guardian, Barry Eichengreen (10/12/13)
- What problems are created by falling prices?
- What effect would deflation have on debt and the difficulties in repaying that debt?
- What measures have already been adopted by the ECB to stimulate the eurozone economy? (Search previous articles on this site.)
- Why have such measures proved inadequate?
- What alternative policies are open to the ECB?
- What are the arguments for the ECB being given a higher inflation target (such as 3 or 4%)?
- What are the arguments for and against relaxing fiscal austerity in the eurozone at the current time?
With many countries struggling to recover from the depression of the past few years, central banks are considering more and more doveish moves to kick-start lending. But with short-term interest rates in the USA, the UK and Japan close to zero, the scope for further cuts are limited. So what can central banks do?
The first thing that can be done is to adopt a higher inflation target or to accept inflation above target – at least for the time being. This could be accompanied by explicitly targeting GDP growth (real or nominal) or unemployment (see the blog from last December, Rethinking central bank targets).
The second option is to increase quantitative easing. Although in a minority at the last MPC meeting, Mervyn King, the current Bank of England Governor, argued for a further £25 billion of asset purchases (bringing the total to £400bn) (see MPC minutes paragraph 39). It is highly likely that the MPC will agree to further QE at its next meeting in March. In Japan, the new governor of the Bank of Japan is expected to include asset purchases as part of the policy of monetary easing.
The third option is for the central bank to provide finance at below-market rates of interest directly to the banking sector specifically for lending: e.g. to small businesses or for house purchase. The Bank of England’s Funding for Lending Scheme is an example and the Bank is considering extending it to other financial institutions.
One other approach, mooted by the Bank of England’s Deputy Governor before the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee, is for negative interest rates paid on Banks’ reserves in the Bank of England. This would, in effect, be a fee levied on banks for keeping money on deposit. The idea would be to encourage banks to lend the money and not to keep excessive liquidity. As you can see from the chart, three rounds of quantitative easing have led to a huge increase in bank’s reserves at the Bank of England. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)
The following articles consider these various proposals and whether they will work to stimulate lending and thereby aggregate demand and economic recovery.
Central banks: Brave new words The Economist (23/2/13)
Phoney currency wars The Economist (16/2/13)
Analysis: Global central banks will keep taking it easy Reuters, Alan Wheatley (22/2/13)
Quantitative easing: the markets are struggling with a serious drug habi The Guardian, Larry Elliott (24/2/13)
Negative interest rates idea floated by Bank’s Paul Tucker BBC News (26/2/13)
Bank of England mulls negative interest rates Independent, Ben Chu (26/2/13)
BoE floats extending Funding for Lending to non-banks Mortgage Solutions, Adam Williams (26/2/13)
Funding for Lending Scheme failing to get banks lending Left Foot Forward, James Bloodworth (26/2/13)
Mortgage market boosted by lending schemes, says Redrow BBC News (26/2/13)
Widespread quantitative easing risks ‘QE wars’ and stagnation The Guardian, Nouriel Roubini (28/2/13)
- Consider each of the methods outlined above and their chances of success in stimulating aggregate demand.
- Go through each of the methods and consider the problems they are likely to create/have created.
- How important is it that monetary policy measures affect people’s expectations?
- What effects do the measures have on the distribution of income between borrowers and savers?
- What are annuities? How are these affected by policies of monetary easing?
- How has actual and anticipated Japanese monetary policy affected the exchange rate of the Japanese yen? How is this likely to affect the Japanese economy?
- Explain the sub-heading of the final article above, “When several major central banks pursue QE at the same time, it becomes a zero-sum game”. Do you agree?
At the Mansion House dinner on 15 June, the Chancellor, George Osborne, and the Governor of the Bank of England, Sir Mervyn King, announced a new monetary policy initiative to increase bank credit. The idea is to stimulate borrowing by both firms and households and thereby boost aggregate demand.
There are two parts to the new measures:
1. Funding for lending. The aim here is to provide banks with cheap loans (i.e. at below market rates) on condition that they are used to fund lending to firms and households. Some £80 billion of loans, with a maturity of 3 to 4 years, could be made available to banks under the scheme. The details are still being worked out, but the scheme could work by the Bank of England supplying Treasury bills to the banks in return for less secure assets. The banks could then borrow against these bills in the market in order to lend to customers.
2. Providing extra liquidity to banks through six-month repos. The Bank of England will begin pumping up to £5bn a month into the banking system to improve their liquidity. This is an activation of the ‘Extended Collateral Term Repo Facility’ (see also), which was created last December, to provide six-month liquidity to banks against a wide range of collateral.
But whilst it is generally accepted that a lack of borrowing by firms and households is contributing to the slowdown of the UK economy, it is not clear how the new measures will solve the problem.
In terms of the supply of credit, banks have become more cautious about lending because of the increased risks associated with both the slowdown in the UK economy and the euro crisis. They claim that the issue is not one of a shortage of funding for lending, but of current uncertainties. They are thus likely to remain reluctant to lend, despite the prospect of extra loans from the Bank of England.
In terms of the demand for credit, both businesses and consumers remain cautious about borrowing. Even if bank loans are available, firms may not want to invest given the current uncertainties about the UK, eurozone and world economies. Consumers too may be reluctant to borrow more when people’s jobs may be at stake or at least when there is little prospect of increased wages. Even if banks were willing to lend more, you cannot force people to borrow.
Britain fights euro zone threat with credit boost Reuters, Matt Falloon and Sven Egenter (14/6/12)
Debt crisis: emergency action revealed to tackle ‘worst crisis since second world war’ Guardian, Larry Elliott, Jill Treanor and Ian Traynor (14/6/12)
Q&A: Funding for lending scheme Financial Times, Norma Cohen (15/6/12)
Bank lending plan: How will it work? BBC News (15/6/12)
Bank of England’s loans to high street banks start next week Guardian, Phillip Inman (15/6/12)
Mervyn King: Bank of England and Treasury to work together The Telegraph (15/6/12)
Bank of England offers £80bn loans Channel 4 News, Sarah Smith (15/6/12)
Bank funding scheme plans unveiled Independent, Holly Williams (15/6/12)
Banking: King hits panic button Independent, Ben Chu (15/6/12)
Bankers raise doubts on credit scheme Financial Times, Patrick Jenkins and Sharlene Goff (15/6/12)
We should not pin our hopes on Britain’s plan A-plus Financial Times, Martin Wolf (15/6/12)
Throwing money at banks won’t solve economic crisis, Ed Balls says Guardian, Patrick Wintour (15/6/12)
UK lending plan faces risk of low take-up BloombergBusinessweek, Robert Barr (15/6/12)
Will Bank of England’s new lending schemes work? BBC News, Robert Peston (15/6/12)
Bank and Treasury’s plan A-plus for UK BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (15/6/12)
- How would the schemes incentivise banks to lend more?
- Explain what is meant by the Extended Collateral Term Repo Facility. How similar is it to the long-term repo operations of the ECB (see the news item More bank debt to ease bank debt)?
- What factors are likely to determine the take-up of loans from banks?
- Will the new arrangements have any implications for taxpayers? Explain.
- To what extent are fiscal and monetary policy currently complementary?
- What is the significance of calling the new measures ‘Plan A-plus’? What would ‘Plan B’ be?