Category Archives: quantitative easing

10/1/19: QE or QT? Look at the markets for signals

With U.S. Fed entering the stage where the markets expectations for a pause in monetary tightening is running against the Fed statements on the matter, and the ambiguity of the Fed's forward guidance runs against the contradictory claims from the individual Fed policymakers, the real signals as to the Fed's actual decisions factors can be found in the historical data.

Here is the history of the monetary easing by the Fed, the ECB, the Bank of England and the BOJ since the start of the Global Financial Crisis in two charts:

Chart 1: looking at the timeline of various QE programs against the Fed's balancesheet and the St. Louis Fed Financial Stress Index:

There is a strong correlation between adverse changes in the financial stress index and the subsequent launches of new QE programs, globally.

Chart 2: looking at the timeline for QE programs and the evolution of S&P 500 index:

Once again, financial markets conditions strongly determine monetary authorities' responses.

Which brings us to the latest episode of increases in the financial stress, since the end of 3Q 2018 and the questions as to whether the Fed is nearing the point of inflection on its Quantitative Tightening  (QT) policy.

21/11/17: ECB loads up on pre-Christmas sales of junk

Holger Zschaepitz @Schuldensuehner posted earlier today the latest data on ECB’s balance sheet. Despite focusing its attention on unwinding the QE in the medium term future, Frankfurt continues to ramp up its purchases of euro area debt. Amidst booming euro area economic growth, total assets held by the ECB rose by another €24.1 billion in October, hitting a fresh life-time high of €4.4119 trillion.

Thus, currently, ECB balance sheet amounts to 40.9% of Eurozone GDP. The ‘market economy’ of neoliberal euro area is now increasingly looking more and more like some sort of a corporatist paradise. On top of ECB holdings, euro area government expenditures this year are running at around 47.47% of GDP, accord to the IMF, while Government debt levels are at 87.37% of GDP. General government net borrowing stands at 1.276% of GDP, while, thanks to the ECB buying up government debt, primary net balance is in surplus of 0.589% of GDP.

Meanwhile, based on UBS analysis, the ECB is increasingly resorting to buying up ‘bad’ corporate debt. So far, the ECB has swallowed some 255 issues of BB-rated and non-rated corporate bonds, with Frankfurt’s largest corporate debt exposures rated at BBB+. AA to A-rated bonds count 339 issues, with mode at A- (148 issues).

It would be interesting to see the breakdown by volume and issuer names, as ECB’s corporate debt purchasing programme is hardly a very transparent undertaking.

All in, there is absolutely no doubt that Frankfurt is heavily subsidising both sovereign and corporate debt markets in Europe, largely irrespective of risks and adverse incentives such subsidies may carry.

15/4/17: Unconventional monetary policies: a warning

Just as the Fed (and now with some grumbling on the horizon, possibly soon, ECB) tightens the rates, the legacy of the monetary adventurism that swept across both advanced and developing economies since 2007-2008 remains a towering rock, hard to climb, impossible to shift.

Back in July last year, Claudio Borio, of the BIS, with a co-author Anna Zabai authored a paper titled “Unconventional monetary policies: a re-appraisal” that attempts to gauge at least one slope of the monetarist mountain.

In it, the authors “explore the effectiveness and balance of benefits and costs of so-called “unconventional” monetary policy measures extensively implemented in the wake of the financial crisis: balance sheet policies (commonly termed “quantitative easing”), forward guidance and negative policy rates”.

The authors reach three main conclusions:

  1. “there is ample evidence that, to varying degrees, these measures have succeeded in influencing financial conditions even though their ultimate impact on output and inflation is harder to pin down”. Which is sort of like telling a patient that instead of a cataract surgery he got a lobotomy, but now that he is awake and out of the coma, everything is fine. Why? Because the monetary policy was not supposed to trigger financial conditions improvements. It was supposed to deploy such improvements in order to secure real economic gains.
  2. “the balance of the benefits and costs is likely to deteriorate over time”. Which means that the full cost of the monetary adventurism will be greater that the currently visible distortions suggest. And it will be long run.
  3. “the measures are generally best regarded as exceptional, for use in very specific circumstances. Whether this will turn out to be the case, however, is doubtful at best and depends on more fundamental features of monetary policy frameworks”. Wait, what? Ah, here it is explained somewhat better: “They were supposed to be exceptional and temporary – hence the term “unconventional”. They risk becoming standard and permanent, as the boundaries of the unconventional are stretched day after day.”

You can see the permanence emerging in the trends (either continuously expanding or flat) when it comes to simply looking at the Central Banks’ balance sheets:

And the trend in terms of instrumentation:

The above two charts and the rest of Borio-Zabai analysis simply paints a picture of a sugar addicted kid who locked himself in a candy store. Good luck depriving him of that ‘just the last one, honest, ma!’ candy…