Gavyn Davies

The Bank of England meets on Thursday with expectations running high that the MPC will announce a further large dose of quantitative easing. Even if they pass this month, which seems possible, this is likely to be only a temporary postponement. Whenever it comes, the next move will be another bout of “plain vanilla” QE, involving the purchase of £50-75bn of government bonds, and taking the overall Bank of England holdings to over one third of the total stock of gilts in issue.

Meanwhile, the Fed is still debating whether to increase its holdings of long dated securities, and if so whether to focus once again on government debt, or to re-open its purchases of mortgages. Any further QE would be contentious on the FOMC, but there is probably still a majority in favour. Read more


Ben Bernanke has been very focused on the Fed’s “communications strategy” for several years now, and has patiently pushed the FOMC in his desired direction during a series of detailed discussions. Now it seems that he has reached his destination, and will reveal all (or almost all) in his press conference after the FOMC meeting which begins on Tuesday. Always a fan of explicit inflation targets, the chairman seems finally to have won agreement from colleagues on establishing a formal objective for core inflation of about 2 per cent, though the FOMC will also need to keep Congress happy by talking about its long term unemployment objectives as well. More unconventionally, each member of the FOMC will also publish for the first time their projections for the Fed funds rate extending to 2016.

What is the motivation behind these changes? Mr Bernanke has normally justified such steps in terms of stabilising expectations about the Fed’s genuine intentions, especially on inflation and the forward path for interest rates. At a time when the extension of the balance sheet is causing political difficulties for the Fed, and when inflation expectations could become unhinged by the rapid expansion of the monetary base, the chairman is looking for alternative ways of easing monetary conditions without printing more money. Modern macro-economics suggests that operating on expectations is one of the most powerful tools available to him, though he is using it much more cautiously than many economists would like to see.

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Federal Reserve. Getty Images

Getty Images

In 1951, an epic struggle between a US president who stood on the verge of a nuclear war, and a central bank that was seeking to establish its right to set an independent monetary policy, resulted in an improbable victory for the central bank. President Harry Truman, at war in Korea, failed in a brutal attempt to force the Federal Reserve to maintain a 2.5 per cent limit on treasury yields, thus implicitly financing the war effort through monetisation. This victory over fiscal dominance is often seen as the moment when the modern, independent Fed came into existence.

The idea that the central bank should place a cap on the level of bond yields is firmly back on the agenda, at least in the eurozone. This week, Italian prime minister Mario Monti said that he was increasingly optimistic that his country’s bond yields might soon be capped. Although he stopped short of saying that this would be done by the European Central Bank, there really are no other viable candidates to achieve this. Furthermore, many economists are arguing that this is the right policy, since Italy is now following a sustainable budgetary policy which deserves to be rewarded by ECB action in the bond market.

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Gavyn Davies logo for central bank liquidity seriesLast week, in the first of a series of blogs on the use of the central bank printing press, I argued that the deliberate decision to increase the monetary base several fold in the US, the eurozone and the UK is an almost unprecedented event in the history of economic policy. Only in Japan, in the early 2000s, has anything like this been seen before.

In this blog, the second in the series, I ask whether this remarkable injection in central bank liquidity is destined to result in rising global inflation in coming years.

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The announcement of co-ordinated central bank action to boost foreign exchange swap lines on Wednesday has boosted market sentiment. The central banks have become extremely alarmed about the deterioration in the funding market for eurozone banks, and the consequent deleveraging of bank balance sheets which this is causing, and have decided to inject a great deal more liquidity into the system to bring this back under control. The injection of additional dollar liquidity which the Fed will undertake through its currency swaps with the ECB could potentially involve a very large increase in the Fed’s balance sheet, so it is worth understanding exactly what this initiative involves.

The genesis of the recent funding problems for eurozone banks has come not from the euro markets, but from the dollar markets. In the boom years, these banks greatly increased their dollar assets (in the form of loans and securitised debt instruments), and funded these activities not by increasing bank deposits, but by short term borrowing in the interbank markets and the money markets. This is a vulnerable position, involving both a liquidity mismatch (long dated assets funded by short dated liabilities), and also the need for cross-border or cross-currency borrowing. In recent weeks, the deterioration in the eurozone debt crisis has undermined confidence in the solvency of eurozone banks, and dollar financing for them has dried up.

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