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?
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?
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?
This podcast is from the Library of Economics and Liberty’s EconTalk site. In it, Scott Sumner of Bentley University discusses with host Russ Roberts the role of monetary policy in the USA since 2007 and whether or not it was as expansionary as many people think.
In fact, Sumner argues that monetary policy was tight in late 2008 and that this precipitated the recession. He argues that the standard indicators of the tightness or ease of monetary policy, namely the rate of interest and the growth in the money supply, were misleading.
Sumner on Monetary Policy EconTalk podcast (9/11/09)
- Why is it important to look at the velocity of circulation of money when deciding the effect of interest rate changes or changes in the monetary base? Can the Fed’s failure to take velocity sufficiently into account be seen as a cause of the recession?
- Is there evidence of a liquidity trap operating in the USA in late 2008?
- How could the Fed have pursued a more expansionary policy, given that interest rates were eventually cut to virtually zero and the monetary base was expanded substantially?
- Why does Sumner argue that monetary policy should focus on influencing the growth in aggregate demand?
- How useful is the quantity equation, MV = PT (or MV = PY) in understanding the role and effectiveness of monetary policy?
- What is the Keynesian approach to monetary policy in a recession? How does this differ from the monetarist approach? Are both approaches focusing on the demand side and thus quite different from supply-side analysis of recession?
- Why is the consumer prices index (CPI) a poor indicator of a nominal shock to the economy? Should the central bank focus on nominal GDP, rather than CPI, as an indicator of the state of the economy and as a guide to the stance of monetary policy?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of using a Taylor rule as a guide to monetary policy? Would nominal GDP futures be a better target for monetary policy?