The Great Debate UK
LONDON, April 23 (Reuters) – The UK Government needs to raise four billion pounds a week, every week, in the financial year to next April, to bridge the gap between its tax income and its spending.
— Neil Collins is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own —
Quantitative easing is like drinking. Nothing much seems to happen at first, so you take a little more. As the warm alcoholic glow spreads over you, it feels pretty good, and surely another glass will make you feel even better. Stop soon enough, before you start feeling woozy, and there are no ill effects. Go on until you can’t stand, and the effects can be disastrous.
LONDON, April 9 (Reuters) – The Bank of England’s terse press statement announcing it will maintain overnight rates at 0.5 percent and continue the existing 75 billion pound quantitative easing (QE) programme gives no clue about whether the Bank intends to extend the programme when the first tranche of asset purchases are completed in June.
But officials will have to make a decision soon: unless they signal a commitment to extend QE, gilt yields will rise even further in anticipation that the major buyer in the market will withdraw.
The QE programme is dogged by ambiguity about its objectives (which a cynical observer might conclude is deliberate).
Officially, the aim is to prevent inflation falling below target by accelerating money supply growth, not manipulate the yield curve for government and corporate debt.
In this, the Bank’s avowed strategy is more conventional than the Fed’s ambitious efforts to determine the cost of credit for borrowers throughout the economy. It is a straightforward quantitative easing patterned on the Bank of Japan, rather than a credit easing patterned on the Fed.
If true, the measure of success is how much the money supply has been boosted at the end of the three month period; the Bank should be indifferent about whether ending QE causes yields and borrowing costs to rise.
So long as money supply has risen consistent with the inflation target, and the Bank can discern some green shoots of stabilisation if not recovery, officials can declare victory, end the programme, and keep the other 75 billion pounds of asset purchases authorised by the chancellor in reserve. Yields can be left to find their natural level.
But many suspect the Bank’s real objective is yield control — in which case it will have to announce another round of buy backs of gilts and corporate bonds in good time, well before the current programme is completed, to shape market expectations.
The results of the existing round have been unimpressive.
After falling initially, gilt yields are almost back up to the level they were at before the Bank’s foray into unconventional monetary policy.
The snag is that if the Bank stops buying, other investors will struggle to absorb all the new government paper on offer without a major increase in yield — pushing up borrowing costs for everyone, precisely what the Bank has sought to avoid.
The Bank’s dilemma is whether to push on (heightening fears about inflation) or call a halt (risking a spike in yields all the same).
Either way, the Bank needs to give the market, as well as the Treasury and the Debt Management Office, plenty of warning about its intentions.
(Editing by Richard Hubbard)