As the prospects for the global recovery become more and more gloomy, so the need for a boost to aggregate demand becomes more pressing. But the scope for expansionary fiscal policy is very limited, given governments’ commitments around the world to deficit reduction.
This leaves monetary policy. In the USA, the Federal Reserve has announced a policy known as ‘Operation Twist’. This is a way of altering the funding of national debt, rather than directly altering the monetary base. It involves buying long-term government bonds in the market and selling shorter-dated ones (of less than three years) of exactly the same amount ($400bn). The idea is to drive up the price of long-term bonds and hence drive down their yield and thereby drive down long-term interest rates. The hope is to stimulate investment and longer-term borrowing generally.
Meanwhile in Britain it looks as if the Bank of England is about to turn to another round of quantitative easing (QE2). The first round saw £200bn of asset purchases by the Bank between March 2009 and February 2010. Up to now, it has resisted calls to extend the programme. However, it is now facing increased pressure to change its mind, not only from commentators, but from members of the government too.
But will expansionary monetary policy work, given the gloom engulfing the world economy? Is there a problem of a liquidity trap, whereby extra money will not actually create extra borrowing and spending? Many firms, after all, are not short of cash; they are simply unwilling to invest in a climate of falling sales and falling confidence.
Articles on Operation Twist
Fed takes new tack to avoid U.S. economic slump Reuters, Mark Felsenthal and Pedro da Costa (21/9/11)
How the Fed Can Act When Washington Cannot Associated Press on YouTube (20/9/11)
Analysis: Fed’s twist moves hurts company pension plans Reuters, Aaron Pressman (21/9/11)
What is Operation Twist? Guardian, Phillip Inman (21/9/11)
Operation Twist in the Wind Asia Times, Peter Morici (23/9/11)
Operation Twist won’t kickstart the US economy Guardian, Larry Elliott (21/9/11)
Stock markets tumble after Operation Twist … and doubt Guardian, Julia Kollewe (22/9/11)
‘Twist’ is a sign of the Fed’s resolve Financial Times, Robin Harding (22/9/11)
All twist, no shout, from the Fed Financial Times blogs, Gavyn Davies (21/9/11)
Twisting in the wind? BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (21/9/11)
Restraint or stimulus? Markets and governments swap roles BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (7/9/11)
FOMC Statement: Much Ado, Little Impact Seeking Alpha, Cullen Roche (21/9/11)
Why the Fed’s Operation Twist Will Hurt Banks International Business Times, Hao Li (21/9/11)
The Federal Reserve: Take that, Congress The Economist (21/9/11)
Articles on QE2
Bank of England’s MPC indicates QE2 is a case of if not when The Telegraph, Angela Monaghan (21/9/11)
Bank of England quantitative easing ‘boosted GDP’ BBC News (19/9/11)
Bank of England minutes indicate more quantitative easing on the cards Guardian, Julia Kollewe (21/9/11)
Fed and Bank of England publications
Press Release [on Operation Twist] Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (21/9/11) (Also follow links at the bottom of the Press Release for more details.)
Minutes of the Monetary Policy Committee Meeting, 7 and 8 September 2011 Bank of England (21/9/11) (See particularly paragraphs 29 to 32.)
- Explain what is meant by Operation Twist.
- What determines the extent to which it will stimulate the US economy?
- Why would quantitative easing increase the monetary base while Operation Twist would not? Would they both increase broad money? Explain.
- What is meant by the liquidity trap? Are central banks in such a trap at present?
- To what extent would a further round of quantitative easing in the UK drive up inflation?
- Why are monetary and fiscal policy as much about affecting expectations as ‘pulling the right levers’?
In the wake of the credit crunch, the Federal Reserve Bank (the Fed) reduced interest rates to virtually zero in December 2008 and embarked on a huge round of quantitative easing over the following 15 months, ending in March 2010. This involved the purchase of some $1.7 trillion of assets, mainly government bonds and mortgage-backed securities. There was also a large planned fiscal stimulus, with President Obama announcing a package of government expenditure increases and tax cuts worth $787 billion in January 2009.
By late 2009, the US economy was recovering and real GDP growth in the final quarter of 2009 was 5.0% (at an annual rate). However, the fiscal stimulus turned out not to be as much as was planned (see and also) and the increased money supply from quantitative easing was not having sufficient effect on aggregate demand. By the second quarter of 2010 annual growth had slowed to 1.7% and there were growing fears of a double-dip recession. What was to be done?
The solution adopted by the Fed was to embark on a second round of quantitative easing – or “QE2”, as it has been dubbed. This will involve purchasing an additional $600 billion of US government bonds by the end of quarter 2 2011, at a rate of around $75 billion per month.
But will it work to stimulate the US economy? What will be the knock-on effects on exchange rates and on other countries? And what will be the effects on prices: commodity prices, stock market prices and prices generally? The following articles look at the issues. They also look at reactions around the world. So far it looks as if other countries will not follow with their own quantitative easing. For example, the Bank of England announced on 4 November that it would not engage in any further quantitative easing. It seems, then, that the USA is the only one on board the QE2.
QE2 – What is the Fed Doing? Will it Work? Kansas City Star, William B. Greiner (5/11/10)
The ‘Wall Of Money’: A guide to QE2 BBC News blogs: Idle Scrawl, Paul Mason (2/11/10)
Federal Reserve to pump $600bn into US economy BBC News (4/11/10)
Beggar my neighbour – or merely browbeat him? BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (4/11/10)
Too much cash, bubbles and hot potatoes Financial Times (5/11/10)
Bernanke Invokes Friedman’s Inflation-Fighting Legacy to Defend Stimulus Bloomberg, Scott Lanman and Steve Matthews (7/11/10)
The QE backlash The Economist (5/11/10)
Former Fed Chairman Volcker says bond buying plan won’t do much to boost US economy Chicago Tribune, Kelly Olsen (5/11/10)
Ben Bernanke’s QE2 is misguided Guardian, Chris Payne (6/11/10)
Effects on commodity prices and stock markets
Gold hits record high, oil rallies on Fed stimulus Taipei Times (7/11/10)
Analysis: Fed’s QE2 raises alarm of commodity bubble Reuters, Barbara Lewis and Nick Trevethan (5/11/10)
Fed’s Bernanke defends new economic recovery plan BBC News (7/11/10)
Sit back and enjoy the ride that QE2 has set in motion Financial Times, Neil Hume (5/11/10)
US accused of forcing up world food prices Guardian, Phillip Inman (5/11/10)
Effects on other countries
The rest of the world goes West when America prints more money Telegraph, Liam Halligan (6/11/10)
Backlash against Fed’s $600bn easing Financial Times, Alan Beattie, Kevin Brown and Jennifer Hughes (4/11/10)
China, Germany and South Africa criticise US stimulus BBC News (5/11/10)
G20 beset with fresh crisis over currency International Business Times, Nagesh Narayana (5/11/10)
European Central Bank Keeps Rates at Record Lows New York Times, Julia Werdigier and Jack Ewing (4/11/10)
Official statements by central banks
FOMC press release Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (3/11/10)
News release: Bank of England Maintains Bank Rate at 0.5% and the Size of the Asset Purchase Programme at £200 Billion Bank of England (4/11/10)
ECB Press Conference ECB, Jean-Claude Trichet, President of the ECB, Vítor Constâncio, Vice-President of the ECB (4/11/10)
- How has the Fed justified the additional $600 billion of quantitative easing?
- What will determine the size of the effect of this quantitative easing on US aggregate demand?
- How will QE2 influence the exchange rate of the dollar?
- Why have other countries been critical of the effects of the US policy?
- What will be the effect of the policy on commodity prices?