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?
Interest rates have, for some years, been the main tool of monetary policy and of steering the macroeconomy. Across the world interest rates were lowered, in many cases to record lows, as a means of stimulating economic growth. Interest rates in the UK have been at 0.5% since March 2009 and on 2nd May 2013, the ECB matched this low rate, having cut its main interest rate from 0.75%. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)
Low interest rates reduce the cost of borrowing for both firms and consumers and this in turn encourages investment and can boost consumer expenditure. After all, when you borrow money, you do it to spend! Lower interest rates will also reduce the return on savings, again encouraging spending and for those on variable rate mortgages, mortgage payments will fall, increasing disposable income. However, these above effects are dependent on the banks passing the ECB’s main interest rate on its customers and this is by no means guaranteed.
Following the cut in interest rates, the euro exchange rate fell almost 2 cents against the dollar.
Interest rates in the eurozone have been at 0.75%, but a 0.25 point cut was widely expected, with the ongoing debt crisis in the Eurozone continuing to adversely affect growth and confidence. A lack of trust between banks has also contributed to a lack of lending, especially to small and medium sized enterprises. The ECB has injected money into financial institutions with the aim of stimulating lending, but in many cases, banks have simply placed this extra money back with the ECB, rather than lending it to other banks or customers. The fear is that those they lend to will be unable to repay the money. In response to this, there have been suggestions of interest rates becoming negative – that is, if banks want to hold their money with the ECB they will be charged to do it. Again, the idea is to encourage banks to lend their money instead.
Small and medium sized businesses have been described as the engine of growth, but it is these businesses who have been the least able to obtain finance. Without it, they have been unable to grow and this has held back the economic recovery. Indeed, GDP in the Eurozone has now fallen for five consecutive quarters, thus prompting the latest interest rate cut. A key question, however, will be how effective this quarter of a percent cut will be. If banks were unwilling to lend and firms unwilling to invest at 0.75%, will they be more inclined at 0.5%? The change is small and many suggest that it is not enough to make much of a difference. David Brown of New View Economics said:
The ECB rate cut is no surprise as it was well flagged by Draghi at last month’s meeting. Is it enough? No. The marginal effect of the cut is very limited, but at least it should have some symbolic rallying effect on economic confidence.
This was supported by Howard Archer at HIS Global Insight, who added:
Admittedly, it is unlikely that the trimming of interest rates from 0.75% to 0.5% will have a major growth impact, especially given fragmented credit markets, but any potential help to the eurozone economy in its current state is worthwhile.
Inflation in the eurozone is only at 1.2%, which is significantly below the ceiling of 2%, so this did give the ECB scope for the rate to be cut. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.) After all, when interest rates fall, the idea is to boost aggregate demand, but with this, inflation can emerge. Mr Draghi said ‘we will monitor very closely all incoming information, and assess any impact on the outlook for price stability’. The primary objective of the ECB is the control of inflation and so had inflation been somewhat higher, we may have seen a different decision by the ECB. However, even then, 5 consecutive quarters of negative growth is hard to ignore.
So, if these lower interest rates have little effect on stimulating an economic recovery, what about a movement away from austerity? Many have been calling for stimulus in the economy, arguing that the continuing austerity measures are stifling growth. The European Council President urged governments to promote growth and job creation. Referring to this, he said:
Taking these measures is more urgent than anything … After three years of firefights, patience with austerity is wearing understandably thin.
However, Mr. Draghi urged for policymakers to stick with austerity and continue to focus on bringing debt levels down, while finding other ways to stimulate growth, including structural reform. The impact of this latest rate cut will certainly take time to filter through the economy and will very much depend on whether the 0.5% interest rate is passed on to customers, especially small businesses. Confidence and trust within the financial sector is therefore key and it might be that until this emerges, the eurozone itself is unlikely to emerge from its recession.
ECB ready to enter unchartered waters as bank cuts interest rate to fresh low of 0.5pc The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (2/5/13)
Draghi urges Eurozone governments to stay the course on austerity Financial Times, Michael Steen (2/5/13)
Eurozone interest rates cut to a record low of 0.5% The Guardian, Heather Stewart (2/5/13)
ECB’s Draghi ‘ready to act if needed’ BBC News (2/5/13)
Eurozone interest rates cut again as ECB matches Bank of England Independent, Russell Lynch (3/5/13)
Margio Draghi urges no let-up in austerity reforms after Eurozone rate cut – as it happened The Guardian, Graeme Wearden (2/5/13)
ECB cuts interest rate to record-low 0.5% in desperate measure to drag Eurozone out of recession Mail Online, Simon Tomlinson and Hugo Duncan (2/5/13)
ECB cuts interest rates, open to further action Reuters, Michael Shields (2/5/13)
Eurozone loosens up austerity, slowly Wall Street Journal (2/5/13)
ECB cuts interest rate, not enough to pull the region out of recession The Economic Times of India (2/5/13)
Euro steady ahead of ECB interest rate announcement Wall Street Journal, Clare Connaghan (2/5/13)
European Central Bank (ECB) cuts interest rates BBC News (2/5/13)
All eyes on ECB as markets expect rate cut Financial Times, Michael Steen (2/5/13)
- How is a recession defined?
- Using an aggregate demand/aggregate supply diagram, illustrate and explain the impact that this cut in interest rates should have.
- On which factors will the effectiveness of the cut in interest rates depend?
- Using the interest rate and exchange rate transmission mechanisms to help you, show the impact of interest rates on the various components of aggregate demand and thus on national output.
- What would be the potential impact of a negative interest rate?
- Why did the low inflation rate give the ECB scope to cut interest rates?
- What are the arguments for and against austerity measures in the Eurozone, given the 5 consecutive quarters of negative growth?
The exchange rate for sterling is determined in much the same way as the price of goods – by the interaction of demand and supply.
When factors change that cause residents abroad to want to hold more or fewer pounds, the demand curve for sterling will shift. If, instead, factors change that cause UK residents to want to buy more or less foreign currency, then the supply curve of sterling will shift. It is these two curves that determine the equilibrium exchange rate of sterling.
There are concerns at the moment that sterling is about to reach a peak, with expectations that the pound will weaken throughout 2013. But is a weakening exchange rate good or bad for the UK?
With lower exchange rates, exports become relatively more competitive. This should lead to an increase in the demand for UK products from abroad. As exports are a component of aggregate demand, any increase in exports will lead to the AD curve shifting to the right and thus help to stimulate a growth in national output. Indeed, throughout the financial crisis, the value of the pound did fall (see chart above: click here for a PowerPoint) and this led to the total value of UK exports increasing significantly. However, the volume of UK exports actually fell. This suggests that whilst UK exporters gained in terms of profitability, they have not seen much of an increase in their overall sales and hence their market share.
Therefore, while UK exporters may gain from a low exchange rate, what does it mean for UK consumers? If a low exchange rate cuts the prices of UK goods abroad, it will do the opposite for the prices of imported goods in the UK. Many goods that UK consumers buy are from abroad and, with a weak pound, foreign prices become relatively higher. This means that the living standards of UK consumers will be adversely affected by a weak pound, as any imported goods buy will now cost more.
It’s not just the UK that is facing questions over its exchange rate. Jean-Claude Junker described the euro as being ‘dangerously high’ and suggested that the strength or over-valuation of the exchange rate was holding the eurozone back from economic recovery. So far the ECB hasn’t done anything to steer its currency, despite many other countries, including Japan and Norway having already taken action to bring their currencies down. Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, however, said that ‘both the real and the effective exchange rate of the euro are at their long-term average’ and thus the current value of the euro is not a major cause for concern.
So, whatever your view about intervening in the market to steer your currency, there will be winners and losers. Now that countries are so interdependent, any changes in the exchange rate will have huge implications for countries across the world. Perhaps this is why forecasting currency fluctuations can be so challenging. The following articles consider changes in the exchange rate and the impact this might have.
A pounding for sterling in 2013? BBC News, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (17/1/13)
UK drawn into global currency wars as slump deepens Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (16/1/13)
Foreign currency exchange rate predictions for GBP EUR, Forecasts for USD and NZD Currency News, Tim Boyer (15/1/13)
Euro still looking for inspiration, Yen firm Reuters (16/1/13)
Daily summary on USD, EUR, JPY, GBP, AUD, CAD and NZD International Business Times, Roger Baettig (16/1/13)
UK inflation bonds surge on Index as pound falls versus euro Bloomberg, Business News, Lucy Meakin (10/1/13)
- Which factors will cause an increase in the demand for sterling? Which factors will cause a fall in the supply of sterling?
- In the article by Stephanie Flanders from the BBC, loose monetary policy is mentioned as something which is likely to continue. What does this mean and how will this affect the exchange rate?
- Explain the interest- and exchange-rate transmission mechanisms, using diagrams to help your answer.
- If sterling continues to weaken, how might this affect economic growth in the UK? Will there be any multiplier effect?
- What is the difference between the volume and value of exports? How does this relate to profit margins?
- Why are there suggestions that the euro is over-valued? Should European Finance Ministers be concerned?
- Should governments or central banks intervene in foreign exchange markets?
- If all countries seek to weaken their currencies in order to make their exports more competitive, why is this a zero-sum game?
Australia was one of the few economies that seemed to be somewhat insulated from the 2008/09 recession and credit crunch. However, with the UK now back in recession and global economic conditions worsening in much of Europe, Australia has now joined the list of countries that are experiencing economic conditions that are ‘weaker than forecast’.
Today’s world involves economies that are increasingly interdependent, hence the spread of the world economic slowdown. As such, with weak global demand, Australia has started to feel the effects, with demand for its goods and raw materials falling. This has led Australia’s central bank – the Reserve Bank of Australia – to cut its key interest rate (the ‘cash rate’) by more than expected. The rate had been at 4.25% and it was widely believed that a 0.25 percentage point cut would occur. However, the central bank cut the cash rate rate to 3.75% to counter the weakening conditions. The Reserve Bank said:
“This decision is based on information received over the past few months that suggests that economic conditions have been somewhat weaker than expected, while inflation has moderated …Growth in the world economy slowed in the second half of 2011, and is likely to continue at a below-trend pace this year.”
Banks’ interest rates have been falling in Australia for the past few months and this latest cut will do much to help financially squeezed households. Data show that Australian house sales have fallen, as have house prices, and retail sales have fared little better.
Lower interest rates are often a tool used to steer inflation and the Australian central bank may not have been as willing to cut rates had the inflation rate not come down in recent months. Keeping consumer prices under control remains a top priority for the central bank and so it will be interesting to see the impact that these rate cuts will have on the Australian economy.
Australia cenbank surprises with aggressive half point rate cut Reuters, Wayne Cole (1/5/12)
Australia cuts rates by than forecast to 3.75% BBC News (1/5/12)
Banks unlikely to pass on full rate cut The Australian, Wall Street Journal, Peter Trute (1/5/12)
Australia cuts rate to support economy Financial Times, Neil Hume (1/5/12)
Australia slashes interest rates by 0.5pc to boost economy The Telegraph (1/5/12)
Australia cuts interest rates as economy slows Guardian, Phillip Inman (1/5/12)
Banks must pass on rate cut: businesses Sydney Morning Herald, Ehssan Veiszadeh (1/5/12)
Bond prices rally after rate cut Sydney Morning Herald (1/5/12)
Surplus remains appropriate: Swan Sydney Morning Herald, Colin Brinsden (1/5/12)
Reserve Bank of Australia Cuts Rates by 50 Basis Points to 3.75% CNBC video, Lauren Rosborough (1/5/12)
Further `Modest’ RBA Easing Possible, ANZ Says Bloomberg, Tony Morriss (1/5/12)
Australia’s central bank shifts focus to growth BBC News, Duncan Kennedy (1/5/12)
- Which factors will a central bank consider when setting interest rates?
- Explain the components of aggregate demand that will be affected by a lower rate of interest.
- Using diagrams to illustrate the process, explain both the interest-rate and the exchange-rate transmission mechanisms of the fall in interest rates.
- How are interest rates used to target inflation?
- How will lower rates of interest help the Australian economy recover from weakening global economic conditions?
- Why are Australia’s banks unlikely to pass on the full rate cut to consumers?
- Why did bond prices rise and the Australian dollar depreciate after the rate cut? Why does this suggest that a 0.5% cut was greater than anticpated by markets?