November 22, 2017

What Is Quantitative Easing

Since the 2008 recession, the phrase quantitative easing has been used throughout the media extensively. Well, what is quantitative easing?

The term quantitative easing (QE) describes a monetary policy used by central banks to increase the supply of money by increasing the excess reserves of the banking system. This policy is usually invoked when the normal methods to control the money supply have failed, i.e the bank interest rate, discount rate and/or interbank interest rate are either at, or close to, zero.

A central bank implements QE by first crediting its own account with money it creates ex nihilo (“out of nothing”). It then purchases financial assets, including government bonds, agency debt, mortgage-backed securities and corporate bonds, from banks and other financial institutions in a process referred to as open market operations. The purchases, by way of account deposits, give banks the excess reserves required for them to create new money, and thus hopefully induce a stimulation of the economy, by the process of deposit multiplication from increased lending in the fractional reserve banking system.

Ordinarily, the central bank uses its control of interest rates, or sometimes reserve requirements, to indirectly influence the supply of money. In some situations, such as very low inflation or deflation, setting a low interest rate is not enough to maintain the level of money supply desired by the central bank, and so quantitative easing is employed to further boost the amount of money in the financial system. This is often considered a “last resort” to increase the money supply. The first step is for the bank to create more money ex nihilo (“out of nothing”) by crediting its own account. It can then use these funds to buy investments like government bonds from financial firms such as banks, insurance companies and pension funds, in a process known as “monetising the debt”.

Quantitative easing is seen as a risky strategy that could trigger higher inflation than desired or even hyperinflation if it is improperly used and too much money is created.

Quantitative easing runs the risk of going too far. An increase in money supply to a system has an inflationary effect by diluting the value of a unit of currency. People who have saved money will find it is devalued by inflation; this combined with the associated low interest rates will put people who rely on their savings in difficulty. If devaluation of a currency is seen externally to the country it can affect the international credit rating of the country which in turn can lower the likelihood of foreign investment. Like old-fashioned money printing, Zimbabwe suffered an extreme case of a process that has the same risks as quantitative easing, printing money, making its currency virtually worthless.

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