Readers have asked me to update them on the debates about QE. The UK is not adding to its stock of £375 bn of created money and bond purchase. The US is just about to end its latest programme of money creation. Japan is well advanced with another very large programme and is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, as inflation (ex tax increases) is still low. The Euro area is not undertaking formal QE, but is seeking to increase liquidity by the ECB buying loan packages and bonds from commercial banks.
Before the UK crisis hit in 2007 (Northern Rock) and 2008 (RBS and HBOS) I urged a different policy towards the banks. I wanted the Bank of England to lend as lender of last resort . I urged them to supply more liquidity to a very damaged inter bank market. They chose not to, citing moral hazard. As a result they allowed major banks to collapse. The FSA banking regulator switched from being too lax in its standards of cash and capital to being too tough for the circumstances, increasing the damage done. This was a predictable tragedy which this site chronicled at the time and warned against in advance.
I also opposed the pumping of large sums of taxpayers money into commercial banks to provide new capital. I recommended controlled administration once they had helped bring the banks down. The shareholders and bondholders rather than taxpayers should have taken the hit. The authorities should have lent money to the parts of the commercial banks they needed to support and preserve whilst they found their own new arrangements for owners and capital. This approach has now been adopted for future crises through the so called living wills, a type of controlled administration. I wanted to see radical changes to the numbers of banks and the shape and performance of the banking industry by a market led reorganisation and recapitalisation of the commercial banks that were in trouble.
If this had all be done in a timely way the Bank of England would have financed the system by shorter term loans for a period and we would have seen a competitive sensible banking industry emerge much more rapidly. We would not have needed QE.
QE was required because the Bank did not keep the banking markets liquid and because the badly damaged commercial banks in the system meant they could no longer finance a normal level of economic activity and modest growth. QE did provide some relief to a very troubled market by releasing cash into the hands of people and institutions who previously owned government bonds. This money then found its way into the commercial banking system and averted an even larger decline in the money supply with worse recessionary consequences. Much of this injection in the US, Japan and in the UK did not prove inflationary for the simple reason the commercial banks needed the extra deposits and additional cash and did not lend this money on or gear it, which would have proved inflationary. The only caveat to that comment is in the UK QE may have been a reason sterling devalued, which did give a one off boost to inflation. In Japan a large devaluation of the yen did not have similar consequences as it is an economy less dependent on imports.
I see no need for either the USA or the UK to undertake any further QE. Both have reasonable recoveries. Even with the poor performance of the Eurozone and slower worldwide growth, most forecasters think the UK and US will continue to grow at a reasonable pace this year and next. Japan needs to fix its commercial banks more successfully. Its massive QE programmes achieve very little by way of extra output or inflation. I will study the Eurozone in more detail in a later post.
QE has adverse side effects. It damages the returns to savers and grossly distorts the price of financial assets.