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.
In a carefully argued article in the New Statesman, the UK Business Secretary, Vince Cable, considers the slow recovery in the economy and whether additional measures should be adopted. He sums up the current state of the economy as follows:
The British economy is still operating at levels around or below those before the 2008 financial crisis and roughly 15 per cent below an albeit unsustainable pre-crisis trend. There was next to no growth during 2012 and the prospect for 2013 is of very modest recovery.
Unsurprisingly there is vigorous debate as to what has gone wrong. And also what has gone right; unemployment has fallen as a result of a million (net) new jobs in the private sector and there is vigorous growth of new enterprises. Optimistic official growth forecasts and prophets of mass unemployment have both been confounded.
He argues that supply-side policies involving “a major and sustained commitment to skills, innovation and infrastructure investment” are essential if more rapid long-term growth is to be achieved. This is relatively uncontroversial.
But he also considers the claim that austerity has kept the economy from recovering and whether policies to tackle the negative output gap should be adopted, even if this means a short-term increase in government borrowing.
But crude Keynesian policies of expanding aggregate demand are both difficult to implement and may not take into account the particular circumstance of the current extended recession – or depression – in the UK and in many eurozone countries. World aggregate demand, however, is not deficient. In fact it is expanding quite rapidly, and with the sterling exchange rate index some 20% lower than before the financial crisis, this should give plenty of opportunity for UK exporters.
Yet expanding UK aggregate demand is proving difficult to achieve. Consumers, worried about falling real wages and large debts accumulated in the years of expansion, are reluctant to increase consumption and take on more debts, despite low interest rates. In the light of dampened consumer demand, firms are reluctant to invest. This makes monetary policy particularly ineffective, especially when banks have become more risk averse and wish to hold higher reserves, and indeed are under pressure to do so.
So what can be done? He argues that there is “some scope for more demand to boost output, particularly if the stimulus is targeted on supply bottlenecks such as infrastructure and skills.” In other words, he advocates policies that will simultaneously increase both aggregate demand and aggregate supply. Monetary policy, involving negative real interest rates and quantitative easing, has helped to prevent a larger fall in real aggregate demand and a deeper dive into recession, but the dampened demand for money and the desire by banks to build their reserves has meant a massive fall in the money multiplier. Perhaps monetary policy needs to be more aggressive still (see the blog post, Doves from above), but this may not be sufficient.
Which brings Dr Cable to the political dynamite! He advocates an increase in public investment on infrastructure (schools and colleges, hospitals, road and rail projects and housing, and considers whether this should be financed, not by switching government expenditure away from current spending, but by borrowing more.
Such a strategy does not undermine the central objective of reducing the structural deficit, and may assist it by reviving growth. It may complicate the secondary objective of reducing government debt relative to GDP because it entails more state borrowing; but in a weak economy, more public investment increases the numerator and the denominator.
He raises the question of whether the balance of risks has changed: away from the risk of increased short-term borrowing causing a collapse of confidence to the risk of lack of growth causing a deterioration in public finances and this causing a fall in confidence. As we saw in the blog post Moody Blues, the lack of growth has already caused one ratings agency (Moody’s) to downgrade the UK’s credit rating. The other two major agencies, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch may well follow suit.
The day after Dr Cable’s article was published, David Cameron gave a speech saying that the government would stick to its plan of deficit reduction. Not surprisingly commentators interpreted this as a split in the Coalition. Carefully argued economics from Dr Cable it might have been, but political analysts have seen it as a hand grenade, as you will see from some of the articles below.
When the facts change, should I change my mind? New Statesman, Vince Cable (6/3/13)
Keynes would be on our side New Statesman, Vince Cable (12/1/11)
Exclusive: Vince Cable calls on Osborne to change direction New Statesman, George Eaton (67/3/13)
Vince Cable: Borrowing may not be as bad as slow growth BBC News (7/3/13)
Vince Cable makes direct challenge to Cameron over economic programme The Guardian, Nicholas Watt (7/3/13)
Vince Cable Says George Osborne Must Change Course And Borrow More To Revive Growth Huffington Post, Ned Simons (6/3/13)
David Cameron and Vince Cable at war over route to recovery Independent, Andrew Grice (6/3/13)
Vince Cable: Borrowing may not be as bad as slow growth BBC News, James Landale (6/3/13)
David Cameron: We will hold firm on economy BBC News (7/3/13)
David Cameron: We will hold firm on economy BBC News (7/3/13)
Clegg Backs Cable Over Controversial Economy Comments LBC Radio, Nick Clegg (7/3/13)
It’s plain what George Osborne needs to do – so just get on and do it The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (6/3/13)
Vince Cable’s plan B: a “matter of judgement” BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (7/3/13)
George Osborne needs to turn on the spending taps The Guardian, Phillip Inman (12/3/13)
- Why has monetary policy proved ineffective in achieving a rapid recovery from recession?
- Distinguish between discretionary fiscal policy and automatic fiscal stabilisers.
- Why has the existence of automatic fiscal stabilisers meant that the public-sector deficit has been difficult to bring down?
- In what ways has the balance of risks in using discretionary fiscal policy changed over the past three years?
- In what ways is the depression of the late 2000s/early 2010s (a) similar to and (b) different from the Great Depression of the early 1930s?
- In what ways is the structure of public-sector debt in the UK different from that in many countries in the eurozone? Why does this give the government more scope for expansionary fiscal policy?
- Why does the Office of Budget Responsibility’s estimates of the tax and government expenditure multipliers suggest that “if fiscal policy is to work in a Keynesian manner, it needs to be targeted carefully, concentrating on capital projects”?
- Why did Keynes argue that monetary policy is ineffective at the zero bound (to use Dr Cable’s terminology)? Are we currently at the zero bound? If so what can be done?
- Has fiscal tightening more than offset loose monetary policy?
In the wake of the financial crisis of 2007/8, the international banking regulatory body, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, sought to ensure that the global banking system would be much safer in future. This would require that banks had (a) sufficient capital; (b) sufficient liquidity to meet the demands of customers.
The Basel III rules set new requirements for capital adequacy ratios, to be phased in by 2019. But what about liquidity ratios? The initial proposals of the Basel Committee were that banks should have sufficient liquid assets to be able to withstand for at least 30 days an intense liquidity crisis (such as that which led to the run on Northern Rock in 2007). Liquid assets were defined as cash, reserves in the central bank and government bonds. This new ‘liquidity coverage ratio’ would begin in 2015.
These proposals, however, have met with considerable resistance from bankers, who claim that higher liquidity requirements will reduce their ability to lend and reduce the money multiplier. This would make it more difficult for countries to pull out of recession.
In response, the Basel Committee has published a revised set of liquidity requirements. The new liquidity coverage ratio, instead of being introduced in full in 2015, will be phased in over four years from 2015 to 2019. Also the definition of liquid assets has been significantly expanded to include highly rated equities, company bonds and mortgage-backed securities.
This loosening of the liquidity requirements has been well received by banks. But, as some of the commentators point out in the articles, it is some of these assets that proved to be wholly illiquid in 2007/8!
Banks Win 4-Year Delay as Basel Liquidity Rule Loosened BloombergJim Brunsden, Giles Broom & Ben Moshinsky (7/1/13)
Banks win victory over new Basel liquidity rules Independent, Ben Chu (7/1/13)
Banks win concessions and time on liquidity rules The Guardian, Dan Milmo (7/1/13)
Basel liquidity agreement boosts bank shares BBC News (7/1/13)
Banks agree minimum liquidity rules BBC News, Robert Peston (67/1/13)
Group of Governors and Heads of Supervision endorses revised liquidity standard for banks BIS Press Release (6/1/13)
Summary description of the LCR BIS (6/1/13)
Basel III: The Liquidity Coverage Ratio and liquidity risk monitoring tools BIS (6/1/13)
Introductory remarks from GHOS Chairman Mervyn King and the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision’s Chairman Stefan Ingves (Transcript) BIS (6/1/13)
- What is meant by ‘liquid assets’?
- How does the liquidity of assets depend on the state of the economy?
- What is the relationship between the liquidity ratio and the money multiplier?
- Does the size of the money multiplier depend solely on the liquidity ratio that banks are required to hold?
- Distinguish between capital adequacy and liquidity.
- What has been the effect of quantitative easing on banks’ liquidity ratios?
Figures released by the Bank of England show that M4 fell by 5.0% in the year to March 2012. This record fall comes despite over £320 billion of assets purchased by the Bank under its quantitative easing programme. These are funded by the creation of reserves in the Bank of England. (See the Bank of England site for details of the timing and amounts of QE.)
Because of the considerable injection of new money into the banking system, notes and coin plus banks’ reserve balances in the Bank of England rose by 44.9%. So how is it that this measure of narrow money has increased massively and yet M4 has fallen?
One problem with using figures for changes in M4 to gauge economic activity is that they include intra-financial sector transactions – transactions between ‘other financial corporations’ (OFCs). Such transactions do not impact on the real economy. For this reason, the Bank of England prefers to focus on a measure that excludes these transactions between OFCs, a measure known as ‘M4 excluding intermediate OFCs’. This measure rose by 2.7% in the year to March 2012. Although this was positive, it was still weak.
So why does quantitative easing seem to be having such a small effect on bank lending? The following articles look at the issue.
Record collapse in UK money supply blamed on banks The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (2/5/12)
UK March mortgage approvals rise unexpectedly London South East (2/5/12)
UK March Net Consumer Lending +GBP1.4 Billion NASDAQ, Jason Douglas and Nicholas Winning (2/5/12)
M4 Hits Record Low; Non-Residents Sell Gilts Market News International (2/5/12)
Bankstats (Monetary & Financial Statistics) – March 2012 Bank of England (2/5/12): see Tables A1.1.1, A2.1.1 and A2.2.3
- How does quantitative easing impact on the narrow measure of money: notes, coin and banks’ reserve balances in the Bank of England?
- How might an increase in narrow money lead to an increase in broad money (such as M4)?
- How is it that notes, coin and banks’ reserve balances rose so rapidly in the year to March 2012, while M4 fell and even M4 excluding OFCs rose only slightly?
- Does this suggest that money supply is endogenous? Explain.
- How does requiring banks to rebuild their capital base impact on the relationship between narrow and broad money?
In December 2011, the ECB provided some €489bn to banks in the form of three-year loans at low interest rates (1%) through open-market operations (see Will new ECB repo operations support the eurozone bond market?).
These ‘Longer-term refinancing operations’ or ‘LTROs’ are designed to ease the burden on European banks which have been struggling to persuade markets that they are dealing with their large amounts of toxic debt, some of which is sovereign debt. Indeed, some of the ECB loans have been used to purchase Italian and Spanish bonds, thereby reducing the likelihood that these countries will default on their debts – at least for the timebeing.
On 29 February 2012, the ECB offered another round of LTROs. Some 800 banks borrowed €530bn under the scheme, bringing the total to a little over €1tr. Initially, much of the money has been put back on overnight deposit with the ECB. The hope, however, is that the loans will be used to support increased credit throughout the eurozone and to fund further purchases of sovereign debt.
But will the increased narrow money supply in the eurozone through these open-market operations result in increased broad money and increased spending and growth? The answer to that depends a great deal on confidence: confidence of banks to lend to firms and consumers; confidence of firms and consumers to borrow. The hope is that the extra money supply will not simply see a corresponding reduction in the velocity of circulation.
The following articles consider the likely effects of these longer-term repos on the real economy.
ECB hands €529bn in emergency loans to European banks Guardian, Heather Stewart (29/2/12)
Q&A: The ECB’s bank funding programme The Telegraph, Angela Monaghan (29/2/12)
Fighting Debt with Debt Forbes, Bob McTeer (5/3/12)
Is ECB’s €1trn cash boost just the tip of the iceberg? Investment Week, Kyle Caldwell, Dan Jones (5/3/12)
Banks deposit record €821bn at ECB Financial Times, Mary Watkins (5/3/12)
Europe economy may see slim gain from supersize funding: poll Reuters, Sumanta Dey (5/3/12)
Who is the ECB helping? BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (29/2/12)
ECB information on OMOs
Open Market Operations ECB
- Explain how longer-term refinancing operations work.
- What will determine how much of these ECB loans will be lent to companies?
- Explain what is meant by (a) the velocity of circulation; (b) the money multiplier. Why will the size of these two determine the likely success of the ECB’s LTRO programme?
- Why may the ECB’s actions boost market sentiment? Why might they have the opposite effect?
- Explain what is meant by the “continued de-leveraging by banks”. How does this impact on the money multiplier?