Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Few Comments on QE

by Calculated Risk on 10/23/2014 01:54:00 PM

A few comments on QE:

• The FOMC is expected to announce the end of QE3 on Wednesday October 29th, following the FOMC meeting next week.

Most research shows that the primary impact of QE on interest rates is from the size of the Fed balance sheet ("stock") as opposed to the impact on supply and demand ("flow"). This means that interest rates will not spike when QE ends (something I've noted at the conclusion of previous QE purchases).

• The positive impact of QE on the economy was probably modest and was the result of lower interest rates. QE probably lowered interest rates 50 bps (maybe more or less).  However monetary policy has been the only game in town since fiscal policy has had a negative impact on the economy over the last 4 years (my view is the pivot to austerity was a mistake, and the actions of Congress for the last 3+ years have been negative for the economy).

• The possible negative impacts of QE (such as inflation, weak dollar) never materialized.  Inflation remains below the Fed's target, and the U.S. dollar has strengthened recently.   As I noted yesterday, without the recent increases in shelter (rent and OER), inflation would be close to 1% year-over-year.  Without QE, inflation might be dangerously low!

• At the end of the previous rounds of QE, the economy was still struggling from the effects of the housing bust and financial crisis. Households were still deleveraging in the aggregate. Now the economy is in much better shape, and the effects of the crisis are diminishing. Therefore I do not expect another round of QE during this recovery (although I think the first rate hike might be later than most people expect).

• On inflation: Some people are warning that inflation will pick up as the economy gains traction (because of the size of the Fed's balance sheet). That is possible, but I don't expect a rapid increase in inflation. Many of the factors that led to sharply rising inflation in the '70s are not currently present (like wages and contracts tied to CPI and different demographics).

My view is QE was not a panacea, but overall QE was a success.  I was a frequent critic of the Fed prior to the financial crisis - I think the Fed was almost anti-regulation during the housing bubble, and initially the Fed was behind the curve when the crisis was looming - however once Bernanke became aware of the severity of the crisis, the Fed was aggressive and effective. Perhaps they were a little slow in implementing QE3 - and with low inflation an argument could be made now to extend QE - but overall I think QE was a success.