Thursday, 4 November 2010

It's QE2, the Americans are printing momey again

Yes, Ben "Helicopter" Benanke, Chairman of the New York Federal Reserve Bank has decided to quantitatively ease another $600bn on top of the $1.75 trillion he has already printed so far. This new money will be drip fed into the US economy at the rate of $75bn a month until the middle of next year. Specifically it will be used to buy bonds thus converting "savings" into cash. Ben will be looking to buy "distressed" bonds (unlike in the UK where Merv only buys gilts with his QE money.)

This is expected to have two beneficial effects (i) money market interest rates should fall, and (ii) banks should hand out more money to companies, because cash earns nothing sitting in their vaults.

In practice what happened last time Ben did this is that new money mainly got spent buying things on the stock market. The banks don't see why they should take a risk lending the money to people when they can just use it to buy paper that yields a nice return. So a stock market boom is to be expected. In fact, it's too late to expect it, it happened as soon as Ben announced the new QE yesterday. (And much of it had already been priced in.)

Now, here in the UK Merv has just today announced that QE will be held at £200bn and the base rate is sticking at 0.5% for yet another month. This must be irking him somewhat. The UK QE is equivalent to 12% of GDP and since our economy only grew about 3% over the last year we currently have a "real" growth rate of -9%. Merv would love to QE some more to fend off the possibility of a double-dip recession, especially since the second dip would be the real recession, much deeper than the 2008 recession.

But unfortunately Merv has been presenting QE as the solution to deflation, but we currently have inflation, CPI and RPI are about 50% over target. Merv can't bring himself to say: I've lost control of inflation but I'm going to print more money anyway because I've also lost control of growth. (At least in USA they do have some genuine deflation going on, house prices falling, etc. That said, see a critique of Ben here.) None of that here in the UK.

However, I wouldn't totally guarantee that Merv will hold his nerve forever. He may decide to QE anyway. He's got big inflation booster coming up in the form of the VAT rise to 20% in January, up from the current 17.5%. He might claim this is somehow an "artificial" inflation that doesn't really count.

Of course it may not count to him, but you'll still notice it when you go shopping.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm no economist but surely it must be time for China to take the money and run, the U.S is obviously living in cloud cookoo land. They can't be trusted to honour their debts.

The depression in yield has artificially lifted the value of these bonds, so I assume long term T.bill holders like China have gained from all this QE so far. I'd be tempted to sell up and reinvest in hard commodities with zero counterparty risk. This must be a safer strategy than leaving the value of your assets down to the FED.