Quantitative easing (QE) designates an application of monetary policy used to stimulate the economy. In other words, quantitative easing can be defined as an economic policy that uses an expansion of the money supply to purchase assets (Meier 2009). Normally, the central bank of a country provides extra capital to ease pressure on banks by putting huge amount of money into markets to buy back bonds or gilts either from banks or commercial sectors. Quantitative easing offers two possible benefits. First, the volume of lending of banks will increase as banks have more cash in exchange for bonds or gilts with the government. The other benefit is that diminishing the supply of gilts will increase the price of gilts. Consequently, the gilt yields decrease, and further, long-term interest rate for overdraft and some mortgage decreases as well (Elliott 2009).
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In 2009 March, the UK government announced a plan that the government would implement quantitative easing and set the bank rate at 0.5% in order to meet the inflation target of 2% and would stimulate the economy by increasing spending. Mitigation of the bank rate can greatly stimulate the economy. If the rate further approaches zero reduction, it may be less effective. Besides, injecting more money directly into the market by purchasing assets can also boost the economy. Moreover, Krugman (1998) states that the money supply is not the only factor that contributes to long-term inflation. However, others argue that monetary oversupply will lead to high inflation and countries will fall into a financial trap. The aim of this essay is to demonstrate opinions based on the current literature encompassing both sides of the subject, to enrich it with its momentary effects on the British economy and then finally to give an assessment of the subject.
Quantitative Easing Policy in the U.K.
During the economic recession in 2008, UK interest rates were at the lowest level (0.5%) in the Bank of England’s 315-year history. The reason why the Bank conducted a series of interest rate cuts was that it aimed to encourage the commercial banks to lend again. However, the aim was not achieved. Even though the interest rate was quite low, the economy remained stagnant and the consumer spending remained flat.
The British government decided to apply the same policy to drag them out of the recession. The first plan was announced in March 2009, stating that £75bn would be made available to purchase government bonds and corporate debt during the following three months in order to provide liquidity in the economy. This raised the concern about the consequence of quantitative easing in the U.K.
The argument can be generally divided into two divisions. One division believes that ‘printing money’ will lead to high inflation in years to come, while the other argues that the economic situation is more likely to follow the example of Japan in the 1990s. It is evident that both arguments have reasonable points. Nevertheless, according to the data obtained, UK will probably suffer from inflation in years to come.
Firstly, in theory, quantitative easing itself is an aggressive policy due to the fact that it increases the size of the money base in the economy and a large money base is usually regarded as the cause of inflation. However, some economists argue that the policy is not simply printing money. Germany and Zimbabwe did in the 1920s (BBC), it still considerably increases the central banks’ balance sheet and the monetary base. In addition, there is not a standard to assess the accurate and appropriate amount of money to be injected into the market and hence it is highly difficult to decide the amount of quantitative easing, and if the amount decided is larger than the market actually needs, high inflation may inevitably occur. As is indicated by Jason Simpson from the Royal Bank of Scotland (BBC), inflation is considerably stronger than the bank had expected and there are concerns that it won’t get back within target if QE continued.
Secondly, in reality, as is measured by the Office of National Statistics, there is currently an upward pressure on CPI (Consumer Price Index) (an index of the cost of all goods and services to a typical consumer) annual inflation. The CPI annual inflation was 3.4 percent in March 2010, which is far beyond the initial aim of quantitative easing policy-to increase the inflation rate to 2 percent. In February, the rate was 3 percent, while Europe’s inflation rate as a whole was only 1.4 percent (Office of National Statistics 2010). Considering these issues, there is no evidence to demonstrate that the rapid increase in the CPI annual inflation rate is not a consequence of quantitative easing policy.
Disadvantages of Quantitative Easing
It seems that conducting Quantitative Easing policy by raising the monetary base in the United Kingdom can effectively stimulate the investment market and help recover the economy. Generally, one of the basic formulas of monetary policy is MV=PQ (M is the stock of broad money, V is the velocity of circulation, P is the aggregate price level of commodities, and Q is the economic quantity) and we usually assume M as a multiple of the monetary base as well (Ellis 2009 and Haung 2009). On the base of QE, policy-makers expect to enlarge the nominal spending (PQ) in UK economy. However, several potential problems still exist and there are uncertainties behind this policy.
First of all, there is a distinct possibility of exam deflation becoming a consequence (Haung 2008). Adopting quantitative easing during recent financial crisis should cause a significant rise in P; in other words, the increase of M and decrease in Q will lead to a climbing in P theoretically. At the same time, nonetheless, V plunges because of the credit risk which indicates that banks have no money for lending or that they are reluctant to lend money to borrowers; therefore, it leads to a drop of P as well (Haung 2008). As a whole, the future price is decided by the rate of money which depends on people’s confidence. If people have strong tendency toward saving or banks are still afraid of lending money to investors, the monetary velocity will not improve after recession. And this may cause deflation. For example, the Japanese government carried on a quantitative easing program after the recession in 90’s, while their perspective on saving let people become more risk-averse and unwilling to invest. Hence, Japan faced with a serious deflation and lower exchange rate which did not promote the general social situation. Furthermore, Ellis (2009) put forward the idea that a high unemployment rate and the chance of deflation forces people to shift their demand from increasing expense and investment to saving.
On the other hand, it may lead to severe inflation (Bullard 2010). Bullard, the president and the CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, argued that if government does not control the monetary velocity well after the implement of the quantitative easing policy, the increase in money supply will result in an “undesirably large acceleration of credit” and then an “undesirably large increase in inflation”. Consequently, it is difficult to deliberate and predict the extent of quantitative easing which may incur deflation or inflation easily (Bullard 2010).
Second, it is unsure that this extra money will be used by businesses and households (Ellis 2009). In Figure 1, Ellis (2009) illustrated that the money multiplier (Money multiplier is the relationship between broad money as well as money base) reduced considerably during last few years which may not reach the fixed goal of quantitative easing, although the Bank of England believed that a large increase in demand will come along through only a small rise in the supply of money (Ellis 2009).
Source from: Bank of England and Ellis’s calculations
Figure 1: UK Money multiplier
He also claimed that banks using new money to purchase new financial assets may have less influence on increasing broad money; in contrast, those banks tended to restructure their financial foundation and then they were reluctant to lend money after boosting their investment activity. As a result, quantitative easing policy may not indeed generate predicted commercial and domestic spending.
Finally, the increase of money supply may result from foreign investors because of the weaker sterling and the arbitrage on financial assets (Ellis 2009). Figure 2 shows the variation of the exchange rate (The vertical illustrates the value of the British Pound against the US dollar).
Source from: Reuters UK, April, 2010.
Figure 2: The Trend of GBP/USD Since 2005
Sterling has become weaker since the sub-prime crisis in 2008. In other words, investors may be more willing to hold cash by selling their new financial assets. It is because that when banks invest more financial securities with new money, those stock prices will go up slightly and offer an opportunity for earning a short term advantage (Ellis 2009). Moreover, Ellis (2009) demonstrated that foreign investors will have the tendency to sell the securities in order to transfer to the alternative currencies if sterling is still relative weak. Thus, a great money supply indeed boosts the UK economy; nevertheless, it is not mainly from the higher households and business activities’ spending. Instead, it may come from the spending by foreigners who earn new cash from securities as well as from the weaker sterling.
Advantages of Quantitative Easing
According to Orphanides and Wieland (2000), central banks normally prefer to use an interest rate rather than a monetary quantity as operating target. Interest rates are considered much easier to observe and to control on a continuous basis than monetary policy. However, when the interest rate is in a near-zero level, “the quantity of base money remains available as a tool for gauging the extent of monetary easing”.
The way to do this is for the central bank to buy assets in exchange for money. In theory, any assets can be bought from anybody. In practice, the focus of quantitative easing is on buying securities, such as government debt, mortgage-backed securities or even equities from banks. Firstly, the bank creates new money electronically in its accounts.
There are some possible effects of quantitative easing according to the macroeconomic theory. Firstly, in theory, it could reduce cost of capital of the whole economy by bringing down the interest rate (Pankiw 2009). As through QE, the Bank of England (BoE) will lower the government yield as buying government bond from non-bank sector. Thus investors could prefer riskier investment elsewhere in order to get higher return, such as corporate bonds, loans, commercial paper and equities. As a result, the yields on these assets would also be expected to fall.
Secondly, QE is able to improve the capital positions of banks (Pankiw 2009). Whatever money does not go into either financial or real economic investment will find its way into deposits at commercial banks. This should help improve banks funding positions and, in theory, make them more comfortable with devoting capital to lending.
Furthermore, it is evidenced that QE can stimulate growth in the money supply to the “real economy” (Pankiw 2009). As Treasuries start lending to the non-financial corporate sector, confidence becomes stable. By pumping into the “real economy”, the money created through QE is considered to be able to drive the economic recovery forward.
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In addition, it is argued that “monetary policies could have additional effects on the economy, via so-called credit channel, because interest-rate decisions affect the cost and availability of credit” (Iordache 2009). The “credit channel” contains the “balance-sheet channel” and the “bank-lending channel” (Bernanke and Gertler 1995). According to the Pure Expectations Theory, it asserts that the forward rates exclusively represent the expected future rates which mean that the entire term structure reflects the market’s expectations of future short-term rates. As it experiences an upward slope of yield curve currently, investors are “pricing an increasing level of inflation and subsequently a change in Fed’s monetary policy” (Iordache 2009). As known in theory, the central bank should continue expanding its balance sheet to eventually reduce the yield. Therefore the low level of the interest rates at the moment and the QE program will pick up the economy by strengthening the consumer spending. As the expectation improved, it will increase the aggregate demand and then reduce the unemployment rate.
Finally, the increase in asset price boosts the wealth and improves the balance sheet. It is reported that Quantitative Easing helps to work around the blockage created by a banking system that is still undergoing a process of balance sheet repair (Bean 2009).
Even though implementing quantitative easing provides numerous advantages to the economy, its safety is far from certain. Despite providing benefits, this monetary policy can sometimes have side-effects, such as high inflation or deflation as mentioned above. Quantitative easing is not always coming alone with advantages. For instance, some people assert that cost of capital can be decreased through low long-term interest rate. Yet, it is also argued that the attempt of reduction of long-term interest rate will only be effective under certain circumstances (Bernanke and Reinhart 2004). In U.S experience, it is unlikely to have significant impact on risk premiums if it only alters relative assets, because assets are close substitutes (Reinhart and Sack 2000). Therefore, the cost of capital will be lower only if investors’ expectation of future values of the policy rate is consistent with the target prices of assets (Bernanke and Reinhart 2004).
Furthermore, Eggertston and Woodford’s (2003) model demonstrates that long-term interest rate will not be affected by the purchase of long-term securities if investors do not change anticipation about future interest rate levels. Furthermore, the Guardian (2009) also points out that one of possible scenarios is that investors dump gilts, which increases long-term interest rate and gives burdens to fixed-interest mortgage and company loan. Consequently, it is reasonable to refer that quantitative easing is not always effective on giving low cost of capital.
In addition, it is pointed out that the utility of central banks’ monetary policy will maximise if the policies are coordinated with central governments’ financial department. This is due to the fact that it has to be ensured that changes in debt-management policy will not contradict to the attempts of central banks to affect the relative supplies of securities (Bernanke and Reinhart 2004).
Besides, it is also believed that quantitative easing enables bank to lend more. However, according to an empirical research of Kobayashi et al. (2006), the overall bank lending was decreasing during the period of quantitative easing in Japan. Thus, the accuracy of the statement is uncertain.
Usually, central banks tend to cut down interest rates in order to encourage households to spend more money. However, once interest rates levels cannot go lower, the injection of money directly in the economy is the only remaining alternative. The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) had to decide a monetary policy in accordance with the government inflation target which has been fixed at 2% in Great Britain. The supply of money has been then considered as a necessity to sustain the general economic growth while, however, avoiding an excess of it to avoid hyperinflation.
After lowering again the interest rate to 0.5%, its lowest level since the creation of the Central Bank, the Bank of England started the quantitative easing program. This procedure, which was launched in March 2009, has been extended to reach in February 2010 an amount £200 billion, to pull the UK out of the recession. With the permission of the Treasury, the Bank of England purchased £200 billion of assets from which £197.275 million was spent on UK bonds and the rest on corporate papers. Some on the MPC – including the bank’s chief economist, Spencer Dale, and one of the external members, Andrew Sentance – have signalled their belief that it is now time for the bank to adopt a “wait-and-see” approach to QE (Oxlade, 2010).
The Bank of England’s efforts have worked in as much as they have very probably pushed down yields on gilts below where they would otherwise be. That has helped reduce the broad cost of borrowing. Yields on ten-year gilts dropped to 3% earlier in the year but have more recently climbed close to 4% and stabilised around this level (Figure 3 on page 13). The increase of the price of bonds reduces their yield, and in effect the interest rate. Therefore, quantitative easing can act as an extra lever pushing down borrowing costs. However, there is a longer term danger by speculating about the debt markets. The government risks creating a bubble in bonds, which will break in a few years time once the economy will recover, building up interest rates and making the government’s massive debt concern extremely costly to service (Oxlade, 2010).
Source from Bank of England
Figure 3: UK 10-year Government Bond Yield (%)
However, the aim was also to get credit flowing again in the broad economy and then to launch spending in the British economy. From this point of view, the success of this policy tends to be limited. The money supply in the UK economy is considered as being the best measure of success. The Bank of England measures this as M4 (Figure 4 on page 14). This figure shows some improvements but only marginal and only in the last few months, concerning the 3 months annualised growth rate. However, the general trend of the M4 aggregate reminds downward trend.
Source from Bank of England
Figure 4: Growth rate of M4 from Bank of England
The huge concern is that banks and insurers, rather than letting the conceeded money flow into the economy, prefer to credit it away to help improve their balance sheets and then financial solvency, particularly given that a second economic crash is still possible in this difficult context depicted by weak levels of the global economy financial aggregates.
The largest danger is the creation of inflation. One of the QE program aims is to stop the UK falling into a deflationary trend. The injection of money in the economy creates inflation. To increase inflation to a certain level would be a good thing, a lot would be very dangerous, especially if the economy fails to recover and then fall in a stagflation period which could destroy a part of the country’s wealth. A bit of inflation would be helpful in reducing the cost of debts, particularly because Britain faces a record consumer debt of more than £1.4 trillion and a national debt of officially £825 billion (more than £2.2 trillion once all liabilities are taken into account) (Seager, 2010 and Bank of England, 2010). Indeed, rising prices will make debts smaller. Legendary Warren Buffett has raised concerns that policy-makers may become addicted to creating inflation as a way of combating their debt problems (Lowery, 2010).
Members of the MPC have signalled the halt of the quantitative easing program but could -and we consider have great chances- resume it when they consider that it is necessary. In this case, it still unclear whether the Bank will continue buying gilts or shift to buy corporate bonds, which may have a more immediate effect. However, such a decision could increase tensions between the bank and the treasury – buying gilts makes it cheaper for the government to borrow money, which is crucial at a time when the volume of public debt is extremly high. If the economy continues to struggle to reach a confortable level of recovery, more QE could be expected and even become a permanent component in the U.K. It is important to consider that since QE effects are pretty much untested it is unclear what other side-effects may be caused.
By making comparison between the advantages and the disadvantages of QE, it can be concluded that QE is not suited to the situation in the UK at present. Although the economic situation after undertaking quantitative easing policy in the U.K. has been stabilised temporarily at least, as discussed earlier, the appropriate time length and money injection volume are uncertain. Moreover, according to the new statements issued in Britain, the bank is phasing out the policy. Hence, it is clear that it has been realized the quantitative easing, as an aggressive policy, can cause a high risk of inflation years to come.
In conclusion, the negative impacts of conducting quantitative easing in the U.K. far outweigh its economic benefits. Although quantitative easing boosts the economy by reducing capital cost and improving monetary currency, it still needs deliberate control by relative departments such as the Central Bank and The Treasury. Otherwise, it may result in high inflation or deflation, even cause asset bubbles and depreciation of sterling. Quantitative easing has been considered as being the last resort solution to stimulate the economy and to kick-start growth after the systemic failure endured by the global economy. In the short term this measure certainly increases investors’ confidence but in the long term structural deficiencies of Britain, especially on the domestic credit market, it will fail to promote real financial stability. As a whole, quantitative easing policy is not proper to the U.K. and more attention should be paid concerning its implementation in this systematically deficient context.