By Dr. Chao Yuang Shiang
(Assistant Professor, Dep. of Finance and Institute of Financial Management, Nan Hua University)
I. Basic Concepts on Quantitative Easing (QE)
Quantitative easing (QE) is monetary policy used by a central bank to attempt to stimulate an economy when standard monetary policy has become ineffective. A central bank implements quantitative easing by buying specified amounts of financial assets from commercial banks and other private institutions, thus raising the prices of those financial assets and lowering their yield, while simultaneously increasing the monetary base. This differs from the more usual policy of buying or selling short-term government bonds in order to keep interbank interest rates at a specified target value.
Expansionary monetary policy to stimulate the economy typically involves the central bank buying short-term government bonds in order to lower short-term market interest rates. However, when short-term interest rates reach or approach zero, this method can no longer work. In such circumstances monetary authorities may then use quantitative easing to further stimulate the economy by buying assets of longer maturity than short-term government bonds, thereby lowering longer-term interest rates further out on the yield curve.
Quantitative easing can help ensure that inflation does not fall below a target. Risks include the policy being more effective than intended in acting against deflation (leading to higher inflation in the longer term, due to increased money supply), or not being effective enough if banks do not lend out the additional reserves. According to the International Monetary Fund and various economists, quantitative easing undertaken since the global financial crisis of 2007–08 has mitigated some of the adverse effects of the crisis.
II. Quantitative Easing (QE) Process
Quantitative easing is distinguished from standard central banking monetary policies, which are usually enacted by buying or selling government bonds on the open market to reach a desired target for the interbank interest rate. However, if a recession or depression continues even when a central bank has lowered interest rates to nearly zero, the central bank can no longer lower interest rates. The central bank may then implement a set of tactics known as quantitative easing. This policy is often considered a last resort to stimulate the economy.
A central bank enacts quantitative easing by purchasing—without reference to the interest rate—a set quantity of bonds or other financial assets on financial markets from private financial institutions. The goal of this policy is to facilitate an expansion of private bank lending; if private banks increase lending, it would increase the money supply. Additionally, if the central bank also purchases financial instruments that are riskier than government bonds, it can also lower the interest yield of those assets.
Quantitative easing, and monetary policy in general, can only be carried out if the central bank controls the currency used in the country. The central banks of countries in the Eurozone, for example, cannot unilaterally expand their money supply and thus cannot employ quantitative easing. They must instead rely on the European Central Bank (ECB) to enact monetary policy.
Japan after 2007 and Abenomics
In early October 2010, the Bank of Japan announced that it would examine the purchase of ¥5 trillion (US$60 billion) in assets. This was an attempt to push down the value of the yen against the US dollar in order to stimulate the domestic economy by making Japanese exports cheaper; it did not work.
On 4 August 2011 the BOJ announced a unilateral move to increase the commercial bank current account balance from ¥40 trillion (US$504 billion) to a total of ¥50 trillion (US$630 billion). In October 2011, the Bank expanded its asset purchase program by ¥5 trillion ($66bn) to a total of ¥55 trillion.
On 4 April 2013, the Bank of Japan announced that it would expand its asset purchase program by 60 to 70 trillion Yen a year.
The Bank hoped to bring Japan from deflation to inflation, aiming for 2% inflation. The amount of purchases was so large that it was expected to double the money supply. This policy has been named Abenomics, as a portmanteau of economic policies andShinzō Abe, the current Prime Minister of Japan.
On 31 October 2014, the Boj announced the expansion of its bond buying program, to now buy 80 trillion Yen of bonds a year.
US QE1, QE2, and QE3
The US Federal Reserve held between $700 billion and $800 billion of Treasury notes on its balance sheet before the recession.
In late November 2008, the Federal Reserve started buying $600 billion inmortgage-backed securities.
By March 2009, it held $1.75 trillion of bank debt, mortgage-backed securities, and Treasury notes; this amount reached a peak of $2.1 trillion in June 2010. Further purchases were halted as the economy started to improve, but resumed in August 2010 when the Fed decided the economy was not growing robustly.
After the halt in June, holdings started falling naturally as debt matured and were projected to fall to $1.7 trillion by 2012. The Fed's revised goal became to keep holdings at $2.054 trillion. To maintain that level, the Fed bought $30 billion in two- to ten-year Treasury notes every month.
In November 2010, the Fed announced a second round of quantitative easing, buying $600 billion of Treasury securities by the end of the second quarter of 2011.
The expression "QE2" became aubiquitous nickname in 2010, used to refer to this second round of quantitative easing by US central banks. Retrospectively, the round of quantitative easing preceding QE2 was called "QE1".
A third round of quantitative easing, "QE3", was announced on 13 September 2012.
In an 11–1 vote, the Federal Reserve decided to launch a new $40 billion per month, open-ended bond purchasing program of agency mortgage-backed securities. Additionally, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) announced that it would likely maintain the federal funds rate near zero "at least through 2015." According to NASDAQ.com, this is effectively a stimulus program that allows the Federal Reserve to relieve $40 billion per month of commercial housing market debt risk. Because of its open-ended nature, QE3 has earned the popular nickname of "QE-Infinity." On 12 December 2012, the FOMC announced an increase in the amount of open-ended purchases from $40 billion to $85 billion per month.
On 19 June 2013, Ben Bernanke announced a "tapering" of some of the Fed's QE policies contingent upon continued positive economic data. Specifically, he said that the Fed could scale back its bond purchases from $85 billion to $65 billion a month during the upcoming September 2013 policy meeting. He also suggested that the bond-buying program could wrap up by mid-2014.While Bernanke did not announce an interest rate hike, he suggested that if inflation followed a 2% target rate and unemployment decreased to 6.5%, the Fed would likely start raising rates. The stock markets dropped by approximately 4.3% over the three trading days following Bernanke's announcement, with the Dow Jones dropping 659 points between 19 and 24 June, closing at 14,660 at the end of the day on 24 June. On 18 September 2013, the Fed decided to hold off on scaling back its bond-buying program,and later began tapering purchases the next year—February 2014. Purchases were halted on 29 October 2014 after accumulating $4.5 trillion in assets.
The European Central Bank (ECB) said that it would focus on buying covered bonds, a form of corporate debt. It signalled that its initial purchases would be worth about €60 billion in May 2009.
At the beginning of 2013, the Swiss National Bank had the largest balance sheet relative to the size of the economy it was responsible for, at close to 100% of Switzerland's national output. A total of 12% of its reserves were in foreign equities. By contrast, the US Federal Reserve's holdings equalled about 20% of US GDP, while the European Central Bank's assets were worth 30% of GDP.
In a dramatic change of policy, on 22 January 2015 Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank, announced an 'expanded asset purchase programme': where €60 billion per month of euro-area bonds from central governments, agencies and European institutions would be bought. The stimulus was planned to last until September 2016 at the earliest with a total QE of at least €1.1 trillion. Mario Draghi announced the programme would continue: 'until we see a continued adjustment in the path of inflation', referring to the ECB's need to combat the growing threat of deflation across the eurozone in early 2015.
To be continued......