For those who have not encountered the expression, quantitative easing is the weasel worded expression for printing money.
This from the Economist magazine (a magazine I once had great respect for and for which I am a print subscriber):
'This is where the Fed has already been inventive: printing money to buy all manner of assets. In October it said it would buy short-term commercial paper. This week it unveiled two new schemes: a $600 billion plan to reduce mortgage rates by buying government-backed mortgage securities and the debt of America’s state-sponsored mortgage giants; and a $200 billion scheme to buy the debt backed by credit-card, car, small-business and student loans (see article). This approach could be broadened to other markets that have shut down. For instance, there is little fresh (senior) credit for firms in bankruptcy. If the government can provide that cash, it could stop the coming wave of bankruptcies from becoming one of corporate liquidations'Apparently, printing money is now 'inventive'. Here is the same magazine discussing Zimbabwe:
'WITH prices doubling every few days, Zimbabweans now spend huge amounts of time and energy preventing their meagre cash resources from completely evaporating. Trying to catch up with galloping hyperinflation, now officially running at 2.2m per cent a year and at least four times faster in reality, the central bank has been printing ever bigger denominations. But it is outrun by galloping prices:'And:
It may seem odd that the local currency is still used at all. From Z$25 billion to the American dollar at the beginning of this month, the cash exchange rate had jumped threefold within a fortnight. In restaurants or shops, prices are still quoted in local currency but revised several times a day. Salaries are paid in Zimbabwean dollars, still the only legal tender. A minibus driver taking commuters into Harare every day still charges his clients in Zimbabwe dollars—but at a higher price on the evening trip home—and changes his local notes into hard currency three times a day. The local money is losing its relevance.So apparently the printing of money is a disaster in Zimbabwe, but if Western countries do it, it is 'inventive' and to be commended.
The following is a comment on my last post:
'The press is suddenly awash with the notion of " quantitative easing " the helicopter strategy is now seriously being prepared by the boe and ecb, the printing presses are being readied.If we compare the comment above with the Economist, I think I that the anonymous poster on this blog has a better grasp of the situation.
It seems that the govt has no intention of borrowing the money when it is so much more convenient to simply print it.
How do you see this playing out and how quickly will deflation turn to rampaging hyper inflation. Presumably, investors will flee sterling as soon as this policy is enacted.
Will this hasten the end, or will it result in the mother of all dead cat bounces before the structural problems induce the final plunge?'
Another commentator a while ago asked whether the UK would follow the US in this policy of printing money. I have this from the Telegraph:
'In what would be a major departure for British monetary policy, the Bank is considering pressing the button on printing presses by engaging in a so-called policy of quantitative easing. It emerged after the Monetary Policy Committee cut borrowing costs by 1pc to just 2pc - the lowest level since 1951.'As is painfully illustrated by the case of Zimbabwe, printing money is the surest way of destroying the value of a currency. Now the really odd part is that there is a claim in the same Telegraph article that:
'The radical proposals, which are currently being explored by Bank experts, could be put into action within weeks, although they would have to be vetted by the Treasury, which is thought to remain sceptical. 'As I have already pointed out in previous articles, there are storm clouds on the government borrowing horizon. The article in the Telegraph proposes that the printing presses may get started in a few weeks. This is about the time that I predicted a government debt default, and at which time I suggested that the government would be faced with either - you guessed it -printing money, or default. Bearing this in mind, the idea that the treasury opposes this move looks to be very dubious.
Now we come to the crux of it. If the government prints enough money, this will provide an potentially unlimited amount of liquidity to the banking system, and the banks can then use that money to buy government debt, thus financing government borrowing. Meanwhile, the government can continue to service its expenses and keep repaying the debt owed to overseas creditors. In other words, the government will appear not to default. However, overseas investors will not see it this way. They will see it as it is - a default. Instead of failing to repay, they will be repaying the debt obligations in what can only be termed 'comedy money'.
At this stage, some readers may be tempted into thinking that this is all well and good. UK Plc is the winner, and those poor foreigners lose out. The same argument can be said for the US and other countries that go down this route. However, as we can see from Zimbabwe, this is not a winning situation. The first problem is that the currency will collapse, making every single import into the UK horrendously expensive, thereby impoverishing everyone. The second is that the devaluation will destroy the value of savings and investments. Thirdly, you end up with a currency in which no one has confidence, even leading to a move to barter, much as is the case in Zimbabwe.
The people who appear to gain most are those who have huge debts. They will see their debt diminish with the hyper-inflation, but this will also mean that nobody will lend any money, including investing into businesses, except at insane rates of interest, but even then very rarely (excepting the government who can just print more to lend, thus enhancing the hyper-inflation). I pointed out in a previous post that the value of a currency is entirely based upon confidence, and the loss of confidence means that there is no more saving, no more investment, nothing but the most crude economic activity fixated upon immediate consumption before more value is lost in the currency, and finally with money fleeing the country in search of a safe haven.
It is a situation in which the cautious and responsible get burned, and the spendthrifts win. However, even the spendthrifts lose in the end, as the general economic collapse hits everyone. This, as the anonymous commentator has identified, is a recipe for complete disaster. I seem to remember another commentator asking whether there would be food shortages, and my suggesting it could not get that bad. Getting the printing presses started is a good road to take you to that situation - though I still do not think it will get that bad (I hope).
I will return to the anonymous poster's question, which was:
'Will this hasten the end, or will it result in the mother of all dead cat bounces before the structural problems induce the final plunge?'I will confess that I am not sure of the answer here. It all hinges on confidence, and how quickly it evaporates, and how quickly the currency sinks on international markets. That will, in part, be determined by how quickly the banks churn out the money, how they spin it, and how long it takes before everyone gets wise to the damage that is being done. There may be a bounce, but I can't see it lasting.
The one certainty is that it will make an already catastrophic situation even worse. When I predicted the default all that time ago, I did think about the option of printing money, but saw it as a last resort to pay government workers, whilst the government tried to scale back expenditure. This is different, as it is an attempt to print the government out of the black hole, and will just lead it deeper into the hole. In both cases it is an act of desperation, but doing so before it is the last resort has the suggestion that people actually think that this is a good idea.
That is very scary indeed.
Note 1: Pocmloc asks me this about the forthcoming taxation post (about half written now).
'I noted your past welfare proposals. have you ever done any analysis of ideas along the line of flat tax/national income/no benefits schemes? They seem superficially sensible but no one takes them seriously enough to say what their real effect on the economy would be'You will be please to hear that this is at the heart of the proposals, but more of that when I post.
Note 2: I have to go in a moment, so will post this 'as is'. I hope there are no errors...
Note 3: I have just found this article, which may be of interest to those who read my previous post. It mentions that there is growing unrest an industrial heartland of China - Guangdong. Guangdong was the first part of China to open to the West, and has been leading the way in trade of many exportable goods. The boom has also seen large numbers of other Chinese people move to the province, as the pay and work prospects were so good. If Guangdong is hurting, the rest of China will follow.
Note 4: I forgot to add a link and quote in the above post, which is for the following article which was provided in a comment (apologies for not citing it earlier, and thank you for the link):
How quickly could the United Kingdom go bankrupt? Given the speed at which countries and companies have been brought to their knees in recent months, it is no longer hard to envision a scenario in which foreign investors become spooked by the UK's soaring debts and flee.If you have time, it is an interesting read.....
Note 5: A commentator, Jeremy (see comments below) has very kindly referred me to national statistics and points out that M4 is at a very high level. The definition of M4 from the bank of England is as follows (link takes you to BoE page on which there is a link to a Word document):
- UK private sector's (for first time defined as the non-bank non-building society private sector) holdings of:-
- Sterling notes and coin; plus Sterling deposits (including share certificates of deposit) with banks in the UK; plus Building society shares, deposits, and sterling certificates of deposit.
The important point here is that, if the money supply expands faster than output, then inflation will follow, and output is falling. The most simple example of the principle of money supply and inflation can be seen in the housing boom, in which creditors injected large amounts of money into the UK mortgage market, with a finite supply of housing, thereby pushing up prices. i.e. if you have more money chasing the same number of goods, then prices will rise. What I believe Jeremy is pointing out is that there is an inflationary impetus within the economy. The spectre of deflation has been promulgated whilst inflationary circumstances exist.
If we look at the other statistics for the UK, we see that inflation is going down. From National Statistics, we see that the Consumer Price Index is showing a -0.2% drop for October, but that inflation still remains reltively high. A report from the Telegraph says the following of shop price inflation:
'Overall prices were 2.7pc higher than the same month last year, compared with 3pc in October and a peak of 3.8pc in August, and the BRC said that there was more deflation to come following the VAT cut to 15pc from 17.5pc. 'The answer quite simply is that the slowing of the rate of inflation reflects the decline in commodity prices, as well as deep discounting by retailers. However, as Jeremy points out, there is still a relatively high rate of inflation. What we have are opposing factors. On the one hand, there is the increase in money supply, and on the other we have the discounting in retail, as well as the falling back of commodity prices. To add to this, we have the fall in the value of the £GB which is inflationary, as it will make the prices of imported goods higher. This is a fairly simple explanation of what is going on, but I will try to expand further on what all of this means later.
Note 5: Lemming (see comments below) has passed on a fascinating link to an article, in which it is apparent that the new Banking Bill means that the BoE is no longer obliged to publish details of their issuance of money. Bearing in mind that we are currently being prepared for the printing presses to be started, this looks mightily suspicious at this particular moment. I recommend viewing the article here.
Regular readers will know that I am the arch cynic when it comes to conspiracy theory. However, this is looking more than a little 'iffy'. It is just too much of a coincidence. It looks like the politicians have grasped the severity of the situation, know that they are about to default, and are hoping to hide the fact that they are about to attempt a 'Zimbabwe'. That they think that this will go unnoticed, is damning indication of their competence.
Thank you, Lemming, for such a useful link.