Endless QE? $6 trillion and counting

Pedestrians walk past the Federal Reserve Building in Washington April 3, 2012. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

(Reuters) – Many more years of money printing from the world’s big four central banks now looks destined to add to the $6 trillion already created since 2008 and may transform the relationship between the once fiercely-independent banks and governments.

As rich economies sink deeper into a slough of debt after yet another wave of euro financial and banking stress and U.S. hiring hesitancy, everyone is looking back to the U.S. Federal Reserve, European Central Bank, Bank of England and Bank of Japan to stabilize the situation once more.

What’s for sure is that quantitative easing, whereby the “Big Four” central banks have for four years effectively created new money by expanding their balance sheets and buying mostly government bonds from their banks, is back on the agenda for all their upcoming policy meetings.

Government credit cards are all but maxed out and commercial banks’ persistent instability, existential fears and reluctance to lend means the explosion of newly minted cash has yet to spark the broad money supply growth needed to generate more goods and services.

In other words, electronic money creation to date – whether directly through bond buying in the United States or Britain or in a more oblique form of cheap long-term lending by the ECB – is not even replacing what commercial banks are removing by shoring up their own balance sheets and winding down loan books.

Global investors appear convinced more QE is in the pipe.

“It is almost as if investors are saying QE will happen no matter what,” said Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Gary Baker.

BoA Merrill’s latest monthly survey of 260 fund managers showed nearly three in four expect the ECB to proceed with another liquidity operation by October. Almost half expected the Fed to return to the pumps over the same period.

The BoJ has already upped asset purchases yet again this year and Bank of England policy dove Adam Posen said on Monday the BoE should not only buy more government bonds but targetsmall business loans too.

But aside from investor hopes of a market-based call and response, is there any evidence that QE actually helps the underlying problem and what are the risks from all this?

The “counterfactual”, to use an economics wonk’s term, is the most powerful argument in QE’s favor – what would have happened if they didn’t print at all and broad money supply collapsed?

A series of papers prepared for a Bank for International Settlements workshop in May certainly saw the problem.

“Whatever view is taken of this, the boundary between monetary policy and government debt management has become increasingly blurred. Policy interactions have changed in ways that are difficult to understand,” the BIS overview concluded.


Reuters has the full article


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