Tl;dr for the TSC

A few months back the UK Parliament’s Treasury Select Committee (TSC) invited anyone and everyone to submit in 3,000 words their views about post-crisis monetary policy. I can imagine that TSC members’ junior researchers must have been thrilled by the prospect of reading all the submissions for their political masters on the 16 open-ended essay questions set in the terms of reference.

I read all thirty four of the written submissions and post the tl;dr for each below so you wouldn’t have to. Thirty four. I hope that the authors who see each of their 3,000+ word missives so ruthlessly and flippantly précised (with potential misreading) take this in the good spirit in which it is done.

Why did I do this? Erm… It seemed like a better idea at the start than it did by the end?

Actually, three reasons. First, political support for Bank operational independence has been sagging. The Prime Minister has been drawing attention to distributional inequitiesassociated with QE. The Chancellor had to make a statement to Parliament in support of QE after City rumours of private briefings in which he inferred that backing for further rounds of QE would no longer be forthcoming. Senior Conservative politicians have publicly attacked the Bank (for example, here or here). And the Labour front bench have been airing prospective reforms that would remove operational independence. It was in this political context that the TSC, which holds the Bank to account, launched its inquiry into post-2008 monetary policy. I wanted to get a sense as to what the submissions said.

Second, I read a lot of policymakers, academics and investment bank stuff about QE. Much of it is very good. But this is a genuine free for all from bloggers, academics, finance professionals, think tanks, former policymakers and private unaffiliated individuals who could be bothered to express a view. I found in the submissions some perspectives that were genuinely new and interesting to me. Reading them has sparked a bunch of thoughts.

Third, I submitted myself, and so was interested as to where my views sat within the body of submissions.

I also learned during the course of reading these about the Cobden Centre, which appears to have done a decent job of making its presence felt rather firmly. The Centre which appears to campaign for an end to fiat money was founded by Steve Baker MP, a member of the TSC, who used to work in IT at Lehman Brothers before turning to politics. Affiliates of the Centre submitted five of the thirty four written testimonies and gave one of the three oral testimonies. I have no sense as to whether these submissions were coordinated or not, but thought it striking that only one of the five written submissions mentioned their affiliation in their self-description.  Four of these written submissions can probably be summed up with the words ‘buy gold’; the fifth was fascinating. I have put these together at the end.

The summaries are in the order shown on the Parliamentary website, but grouped into policymakers, academics, finance folk, think tank, unaffiliated, and Cobden; I include Twitter handle where I could find it. They start long and get shorter…

 

Current and former MPC members

Ben Broadbent, Deputy Governor Monetary Policy, Bank of England

Monetary policy can affect nominal quantities, but not real ones over the long term. Real bond yields are set globally, diverging due to local risk premia or the market’s currency expectations. As a small open economy, our real rates are imported and low policy rates are a symptom, not a cause. Target saving can’t be a thing if savings rate falling. QE works. DB pension deficit not our fault, but probably haven’t hit growth much. Precautionary hiking to lean against the wind of financial imbalances appropriate only if macropru unavailable; BoE has FPC. Distributional impact analysis shouldn’t leave out impact of looser policy on overall income of both savers and borrowers (Cloyne 2016). Low productivity leads to low rates, not vice-versa. When QE is unwound BoE balance sheet will, nevertheless, need to be pretty big given regulations and banks’ demands for reserves.

Professor David Miles, ex-MPC member

Like @moyeenislam, reckons post-QE will still see huge reserve balances for banks, but QE need for duration will be absent. So BoE should own UKTBs to limit capital risk.*

*But he knows there aren’t enough T-Bills and so is flagging that the UK government needs to change its debt profile and shift it much shorter as QE unwinds. It could also be interpreted as an area for monetary-fiscal collaboration that saw the BoE signal that it will be a steady holder of short-term financing instruments for HMT and so HMT can benefit from lower debt service costs (if term premia proves to be positive).

Andrew Sentance, PWC and former member of the MPC (October 2006 – May 2011) @asentance

Rate cuts and QE were appropriate responses to crisis but ushered in generally above-target inflation but not stronger growth. Much of the time the BoE was ‘looking through’ ‘one-offs’, but this looks a little silly over a decade. Adverse consequences from post-08 monetary policy felt in housing (boosting prices), pensions (elevating deficits), savings (incentivising people to spend or buy risky assets) and productivity (zombies and service sector getting trade boost from GBP weakness that made it unnecessary to invest). Hike rates.

There is also an oral testimony that you can watch here from Charlie Bean and David Miles,as well as Detlev Schlichter – a guy from (you guessed it) the Cobden Centre.

 

Academics

Professor Huw Dixon, Cardiff Business School @Econdixon

Policy of financial repression is being pursued and is mistaken given economic output and employment are around ‘natural’ levels, hurting savers and retail banks and helps hedge funds and investment banks. Inequality a problem but not one for monetary policymakers. Hiking rates to 3-4% will boost confidence. Doesn’t seem to understand basic monetary economics double-entry book-keeping.

Professor Emeritus Sheila Dow, University of Stirling, and former special advisor on monetary policy to the Treasury Select Committee (2001-10) @sheilacdow

Distributional effects of monetary policy changes should be analysed ex ante as they impact effectiveness of policy transmission. Also, in concerning itself with aggregates rather than distribution, a value judgement is made that market processes ensure a just distributional outcome (wages and salaries reflect worth, etc). Distributional impact of monetary policy can create social problems that require fiscal spend to fix. Bank-HMT cmte should form to discuss interdependencies.

Professor Richard A. Werner, D.Phil. (Oxon), Chair in International Banking, University of Southampton who invented the term Quantitative Easing as a recommended policy for Japan in 1995 @ProfessorWerner

Interest rates are not a useful tool of monetary policy but should rise. BoE should desist QE, try to steepen the curve, and pressure UK banks to lend to non-financial SMEs. Bank credit creation determines nominal GDP growth. HMT should stop issuing bonds and borrow from banks.

Isaac T. Tabner, PhD, CFA, DipPFs, Senior Lecturer in Finance, University of Stirling Management School @IsaacTabner

Lower interest rates make house prices rise, absent generalised deflation.

Roger E. A. Farmer, Research Director for Macroeconomics, NIESR @farmerrf

There is no NAIRU or natural rate of interest. If inflation doesn’t rise, BoE should hike rates while either HMT does coordinated fiscal easing or BoE buys lots of equities. FPC can and should maintain a price for the average value of publicly traded equities that is consistent with full employment.

Lord Skidelsky, cross-bencher and Keynes biographer @RSkidelsky

Near-ZIRP & QE have probably helped at the margin but the distributional impact has been counterproductive and adverse, threatening independence. Fiscal is better. British Investment Bank. People’s QE.

Tony Yates, Professor of Economics, University of Birmingham @T0nyyates

QE was necessary (although not flawlessly executed); Forward Guidance was pants; inflation target should be raised to 4%; MPC should declare expected rate path; and an institutional architecture should be prepared for large-scale private asset market intervention, technocratic fiscal coordination, and introduction of helicopter money.

Professor Philip Haynes, University of Brighton @profpdh

QE boosted asset prices, including house prices. Rents too. And wealth inequality. Monetary policy should target credit at productive investment, working with the Chancellor.

Professor Mariana Mazzucato @MazzucatoM and research fellow Matteo Deleidi, University of London

Lower rates boost household demand for housing and goods, pushing debt higher; corporates investment intentions don’t respond to changing price of debt. Fiscal expansion would’ve been better than QE.

Eric J. Levin, Reader in Economics (Retired), University of Stirling and Robert E. Wright, Professor of Economics, University of Strathclyde

Viscous loop in play: demographics forcing up savings rates, pushing down demand and interest rates, wrecking pensions funding and boosting demand for bonds.

Professor Francis Breedon, Queen Mary’s University of London

QE could have been £2bn cheaper if executed via HMT issuing directly to BEAPFF (although this would have been illegal under Art 123 of Lisbon Treaty).

 

Finance folk

Association of British Insurers (although written by NIESR) @BritishInsurers

QE has increased DB pension deficits and lowered annuity rates. Under Solvency II, lower interest rates increase both the value of liabilities and the quantity of capital that insurers need to hold to insure their non-market risk, creating a trade-off between the fund’s valuation and its solvency. The highly sensitive nature of these movements to interest rates can generate volatility, which is a challenge to manage, dis-incentivises the insuring of longevity risk, and acts pro-cyclically. 50bp rate change moves Risk Margin by 20%.

Robin Churchouse (Finance Director) and Andrew McPhillips (Chief Economist), Yorkshire Building Society @Yorkshire_BS

Savers hit by QE, and markets have grown dependent on central bank support. Target saving not really observed, but nor have low rates reduced saving. Distribution is a matter for HMT.

Professor Mark Blyth, Brown University, @MkBlyth and Eric Lonergan, fund manager at M&G @ericlonners

QE1 was good, less so later versions. Success of policy 1980-2008 maybe dependent on coming from starting position of anachronistically high real rates. Monetary policy largely out of road; heli-money to households is the way the BoE should best respond to a downturn, should it come before rates are high enough to be cut in response.

Toby Nangle, Global Co-Head of Multi Asset, Columbia Threadneedle Investments @toby_n

Target saving a thing, but jury out on how big. QE sorta worked by boosting asset prices but houses are assets too. Death of DB pension system accelerated by QE, but regs and global environment too; low rates an opportunity for HMT. Nangle-Goodhart. Awesome charts.

Building Societies Association @BSABuildingSocs

QE was necessary, but further rate cuts, and in particular negative rates, could be counterproductive. Target savers abound, their number boosted by rising house prices and falling rates. Brexit will hit investment and economic growth.

Peter Dixon, senior economist at Commerzbank AG @commerzbank

Monetary policy is overburdened in the UK but the BoE has done a decent job. Target saving is a thing.

Neil Smith, Altus Investments & Plymouth University @NelsonSmythe

QE is bad unless it’s People’s QE. Abba Lerner was right and the UK should embrace Functional Finance.

 

Think tanks

Tomorrow’s Company, think tank @Tomorrows_co

QE sort of worked by boosting asset prices and household wealth (unsustainably), but a shame it was needed. Sectoral flows approach taken and monetary toolbox empty, absent overt monetary financing. Companies never reduced their hurdle rates so diminished monetary transmission. BoE chat kept GBP firm, undermining international rebalancing.

Positive Money, think tank @PositiveMoneyUK

Banks don’t really lend to businesses any more so low rates & QE just boosts asset prices (incl housing) and heighten inequality, especially between generations. People’s QE.

New Economics Foundation, think tank @NEF

Loans make deposits. QE1 stopped a liquidity crunch but made the rich richer. Bank lending overwhelmingly secured on property so property cycle key. BoE should target inflation, finl stability, inequality, house price inflation and employment at a regional level, public and trade deficits and ecological considerations. And a pony.

Jubilee Centre, a Christian think tank @JubileeCentre

The system is broken. Move to 100% reserve-based banking, complete household deleveraging, and abolish LOLR as well as tax breaks associated with incurring debt.

pH report

The UK population is ageing. We can prove it. Also, monetary policy isn’t set up to deal with this.

 

Unaffiliated

Michael R Garrard, a straight-talking autodidact

This man has been successively ripped off, is rightly pissed off, and is articulate. Reckons MPC is not in control: private companies are.

Richard Simmons studied as an economist and has worked in businesses

QE should fund big venture capital funds that can equity-finance early, mid, late-stage projects or infrastructure, with spin-out privatisations profiting the state.

Ralph Musgrave, economics blogger and unsuccessful British National Party PPC in the 2010 General Election @RalphMus

Today’s regime is a dog’s dinner! People’s QE.

 

Cobden Centre @CobdenCentre

I thought it best to group all the affiliates of the Cobden Centre together (where affiliates are defined as people described by the Cobden Centre on their website as their authors, founding fellows, directors etc). The Cobden Centre campaigns for an end to fiat money and was co-founded by Steve Baker MP who sits on the TSC.

Toby Baxendale, former vendor of wet fish and co-founder of The Cobden Centre @TobyBaxendale; Max Rangeley, founder of ReboundTAG @NotesfromMax

QE is immoral; shift to 100% reserve banking and a low tax regime should happen. The global liberal elite should be worried. Things will end badly.

Alasdair Macleod, Head of Research at Goldmoney @MacleodFinance

Buy gold. We need a policy of sound money to build solid foundations for economic growth, and a gold standard works deliver sound money. Buy gold.

Vishal Wilde, student who ‘devote[s] his life to fighting for Freedom and Justice because he believes God’s Will is a Free and Just Will’ and has written for the Adam Smith Institute

Multiple monies in circulation and free banking would be great.

Keith Weiner, founder of the Gold Standard Institute USA @kweiner01

Whatever the question, gold is the answer.

Anthony J. Evans, ESCP Europe Business School and IEA @anthonyjevans

BoE should target nominal income rather than inflation. Policy is too loose and has generated malinvestment. Markets provide better answers than policymakers. Some nice framing of epistemological questions.

 

–Fin–

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Printing clever weird stuff … aka money

The ECB is warming up to engage in quantitative easing this quarter. Again the newspapers will be filled with stories of money printing. And so it seems an opportune time to again ask ‘what do we mean by money printing?’

The phrase appears pretty self-explanatory, but kind of assumes that we know what money is. But we all do know what money is, right? It is possible that I was late this. So I thought it might be worth skimming through some basics with respect to what money actually might be in case anyone else has become a bit confused along the way. Then a bit on what money printing is. I apologise in advance.

First of all, there is not just one sort of money, but two: Inside Money and Outside Money. The distinction is not trivial.

Inside Money is private sector money endogenous to the financial system; it constitutes the vast majority of what we tend to think of as money (c£1.7tn in the UK if we exclude things that probably need to be excluded), but is more handily remembered as ‘stuff’ that is kept inside banks, and can never ever ever leave them. This is because Inside Money is short-term tradable bank debt (often also known as a bank deposit) effectively sitting on a series of giant interconnected spreadsheets. Put another way, most of what people understand as their own money is just a massive series of interconnected spreadsheets. People will give you real-life things in exchange for you instructing your bank to reduce the number in your spreadsheet cell and increase the number in your counterpart’s spreadsheet cell, but it would be a bit silly to think you could take the actual numbers out of the spreadsheet.

Outside Money on the other hand is stuff that looks like stuff we tend to refer to as money: banknotes with physical form, (but also bank reserves, more on which later). Outside Money is more handily remembered as stuff that can exist outside of banks although most of this stuff still only exists on spreadsheets. How much Outside Money is there in the UK? There are about £70bn notes (and coins), and another £300bn in reserves (spreadsheet Outside Money that only banks can own) in the last weekly Bank of England return (although there are a few other things on the balance sheet that might also qualify, taking the total up to maybe c£400bn).

The trick that any functioning banking system needs to pull off is to make these two sorts of money appear utterly interchangeable (when in fact they are oil and water). Or as Ha-Joon Chang pithily puts it ‘banking is a confidence trick (of a sort), but a socially useful one (if managed well)’. I agree.

What sort of money is being printed when central banks quantitatively ease? Outside Money. Outside Money is the liability of a Central Bank (and HM Treasury), that is to say, like Inside Money, it’s a sort of debt. Crucially, it is a liability of a State that is short-term rather than long-term. It’s short-termness defines its moneyness. What do I mean by short-term? An overnight deposit would be short-term obligation of the State. A ten-year government bond on the other hand would be a long-term obligation of the State.  (The weird thing about the short-term obligations is that they are repayable only in themselves. But don’t get too hung up on this quite yet.)

In fact money, whether Inside or Outside, will always be someone’s debt. If you have deposits at a bank, you are on the creditor of the bank. If you have notes and coins in your pocket you are a creditor of the State. As long as not everyone tries this together your bank should be able to redeem its debt to you (ie, pay you back the Inside Money that you have on deposit in the form of Outside Money) without notice. But in a fiat money world, the state never needs to pay you out. This might make Outside Money sound like a bad deal (forgetting for a moment that Inside Money is in some ways just a sort of ersatz Outside Money).

So what is Outside Money actually good for?

  1. The quick answer is paying taxes. Having a heavily-armed State threatening to exercise its monopoly use of violence against you to extract payment in a currency of its choosing concentrates the mind. Taxes are debts that are invented by the State in a manner that its controllers see fit (the People, the political classes, the Autocrat, whoever). They can be progressive or regressive, life-enhancing or otherwise. But by projecting debt unto the people, the State projects a widespread and regular demand for its Outside Money into an economy.
  2. The long answer is society.

I think that this is pretty amazing.

Secondly, how do Central Banks print this money?

In straightforward quantitative easing (as opposed to quantitative and qualitative easing as seen in Japan) they buy government bonds from people/ firms/ agents. In so doing they take a long-term tradable debt security (aka a bond) out of the market, exchanging it for bank reserves (a Central Bank deposit of sorts). (NB, if financial intermediaries are using these bonds as collateral – that is to say in money-like ways – things possibly get complicated.)

And given that money is always a debt (and it is), we can see that by engaging in quantitative easing, a Central Bank exchanges one State debt (a long term government bond) for another (bank reserves) without actually increasing or decreasing the total debt of the State. What has occurred? The maturity of the State’s debt has been changed.

So money-printing doesn’t change the amount of State liabilities out there, it just shortens their maturity profile. Does this create refinancing risk? I would argue not, given that Outside Money is at once short-term (eg an overnight Central Bank deposit rather than a 10 year government bond) and perpetual (eg unredeemable in anything other than itself). Outside Money is clever weird stuff.

Finally, in saying that QE ‘just’ changes the maturity profile of government liabilities I am not intending to diminish it. Unlike private debt (issued by non-financials to fund expenditure within a household budget constraint), monetary sovereigns issue debt to monetarily sterilise their fiscal expenditures. That is to say that they sell government debt not because they need the money to finance government expenditure but because they don’t want quite so much Outside Money with which they have paid civil servants, government contractors, benefit recipients etc, sloshing around the system, and so they effectively mop it up by selling government bonds. Government bonds cannot be used in quite the way that overnight Outside Money can be (again, assuming that they aren’t used as collateral.) And so quantitative easing represents the desterilisation of past fiscal deficits – no more no less. But perhaps that’s for another day.

 

PS: Yes, I know that all the above is only questionably applicable to the ECB given that there is an ambiguity over what Inside Money is and what Outside Money is in the Eurozone. This rolling ambiguity is actually an essential characteristic of the Eurozone monetary crisis.

Why is the Debt Management Office no longer part of the Bank of England?

Click-bait of a title, I know. 10.25pm on a Sunday night too. But now that I have scared any potential readers away, I can get down to saying something that I think is quite interesting (without worrying whether it is sufficiently interesting). And it sort of relates to QE.

As a recap, it is worth reflecting (yes, again) on how QE works. While it is only possibly true that no-one knows, it is certainly the case that there is uncertainty and disagreement amongst the principal architects. As Bernanke quipped “the problem with QE is that it works in practice but it doesn’t work in theory”.

I have seen three main competing/ complimentary explanations as to how QE might work which are rather clumsily assembled on the diagram below:

Over the past month the Bank of England has published a couple of empirical studies on what effect a couple of these channels had. The first, on the portfolio balance channel (basically the belief that in buying gilts, the Bank would effectively force institutional investors into riskier assets) which most Central Bankers have relied on in public to articulate the mechanism through which QE translates into easier monetary condition, found that pension funds and insurance companies had increased corporate bond holdings and cash while reducing both gilt and equity holdings versus a counter factual simulation of their behaviour absent QE. This finding doesn’t dismiss the portfolio balance channel, but I read it as a statement that it was pretty disappointing versus the Bank’s expectations.

The second, on the bank lending channel, was pretty dismissive as to any potential empirical support. In the authors’ own words ‘we find no evidence to suggest that QE operated via a traditional bank lending channel’.

This leaves two possible transmission mechanisms: a confidence/ signalling effect, and Everything Else We Don’t Yet Understand (EEWDYU).

One could be forgiven for thinking that Mario Draghi has put in the hours in order to prove that signalling is what it is all about. After all, he delivered the most seismic easing in monetary conditions that Europe has seen in the last decade simply by deploying the phrase “whatever it takes” with a conviction few could doubt. But Europe’s inability to sustain an economic recovery to match its financial market recovery from the depths of the Eurozone crisis puts the idea that signalling is *all that* in doubt.

People seem pretty united around the idea that QE works. So, forgetting how QE might work for a second, let’s recall what QE is. It is basically a massive debt swap, exchanging long-term liabilities (aka gilts) for short-term government liabilities (aka high powered money). This is the case whether we think QE works via the portfolio balance effect, bank lending channel effect, confidence/ signalling effect or EEWDYU. In other words, if QE was worth doing, managing the term structure of the government’s liabilities appears to be a big deal.

Who is responsible for managing the term structure of the government’s liabilities? The UK Debt Management Office – an institution that used to be part of the Bank of England run by charming and capable professionals with whom I might be (I hope only temporarily) unpopular on account of my (very sensible) suggestion that they refinance the War Loan (which I recognise would be an administrative hassle for them although a very good thing for people keen to reduce the national debt and HMT interest payments).

There is also the possibility that QE actually made absolutely no difference whatsoever and has been a massive red herring.

So here’s the thing. If QE works through some mechanism other than a confidence/ signalling effect the rationale for splitting the DMO from the BoE appears defunct. Is it time for a reunion?