Hang on a Minute…Quantitative Easing Does What?

Before getting stuck in to today’s Daily Reckoning, I want to give you a heads up on something I’ve been working on. It’s a story about what I think could well be the single best investment play of 2015. I told my subscribers about it at the end of last year, and this investment idea is already off to a very strong start.

But this year and beyond, I think it has a lot more upside potential. If you’re a regular reader of the Markets and Money, you’ll know that I don’t do this sort of thing very often. But in this case, the story is very compelling.

So check your inbox this afternoon. I hope you like it.

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Back to the news…

It was the central banking show again overnight with markets positioning ahead of the European Central Bank’s (ECB) meeting on interest rates, which takes place tonight. It’s widely expected that the ECB will announce their own version of Quantitative Easing (QE).

Although the actual announcement is set to be a bit of a fizzer.


Because the news is already out. The ECB leaked the plan overnight, suggesting that it will buy €50 billion of bonds per month for up to two years. That’s a potential debt monetisation program of €1.2 trillion.

As usual, the mainstream media is peddling the central bankers’ line in promoting the news. That is, the QE program will help offset deflation and revive the economy. The afr.com reports (via Bloomberg) that:

Mario Draghi called on the European Central Bank to make its biggest push yet to fend off deflation and revive the economy by unleashing a debt-buying spree of €1.1 trillion.

Here’s the Financial Times’ take:

Ahead of the conclusion of a two-day policy meeting on Thursday, a number of media reports claimed the ECB was considering buying around €50bn-worth of government bonds a month for between one and two years, as part of its plans to bolster growth and fight deflation in the eurozone.

Until now, market speculation had centred on a €500bn programme. But the latest reports implied the ECB would buy at least €600bn-worth, and possibly as much as double that if it continued buying for two years.

Hang on a minute…just hang on.

Let’s think about this.

QE is a process where the central bank buys the bonds of various sovereign governments. The aim is to push interest rates down to encourage lending. This lending boost, apparently, will stimulate demand and lead to renewed economic growth and inflation.

That’s the bedtime story version. It’s a fairy tale. It might make for happy reading, but like the little girl Goldilocks wondering through the woods by herself and ransacking a bear’s house before fleeing when discovered, it actually makes no sense when you really think about it.

Let me explain…

European government bonds yields are the lowest in history. Below is a table from Bloomberg showing the ten year bond yield (or borrowing rate) for a range of European countries, and the yearly change in bond yields, expressed in basis points.

So Germany, for example, now pays just 0.52% to borrow for 10 years, which is 121 basis points lower than 12 months ago. Put another way, this time last year, Germany’s borrowing cost was 1.73%.

If you want to lend to the Swiss, it will cost you 0.26% per year for the next 10 years. I know it’s crazy, but it’s true.

Every European country on the list below, except Greece, has experienced a sharp drop in borrowing costs over the past year. Clearly, the bond market thinks there is a high risk that Greece will exit the Eurozone at some point soon, hence its bond yield’s heading in a different direction.

Country Yield Yearly Change
Germany 0.52% -121
Britain 1.50% -133
France 0.70% -170
Italy 1.69% -214
Spain 1.52% -220
Netherlands 0.56% -149
Portugal 2.75% -229
Greece 9.07% +135
Switzerland -0.26% -132


The point to note here is that despite record low interest rates, the European economy continues to remain weak. Record low borrowing costs haven’t helped at all.

What is a round of QE going to achieve? I mean, really?

All it does is allows banks to sell their most risky (or unwanted) government bonds to the central bank, and use the money they get in return to speculate on other assets.

So don’t believe any of this nonsense about QE preventing deflation and reviving the economy. QE is a smokescreen to fund governments and help the banks make trading profits.

The Germans, led by Bundesbank President Jens Wiedmann, are right about QE. They say it’s not necessary and reduces the incentives for governments to make structural reforms.

And that’s the problem with Europe. It has many structural impediments to growth. The cost of money and credit is not one of those impediments.

In contrast, the US has a flexible economy relative to the Eurozone. That’s why the economic recovery there has been better than in Europe. It had nothing to do with QE. Arguably, the first round of QE back in 2009 was useful in taking pressure off banks’ balance sheets, but the rest just went into asset price speculation.

Anyway, it’s uselessness in reviving the economy is not going to stop them giving it a crack. So expect tomorrow to be another day of central bank dominated news.

But just watch out for the old ‘buy the rumour, sell the fact’ trade. That is, markets around the world have rallied this week based on the rumour of ECB bond buying. But when the actual news eventually hits the market, it often results in a sell-off as everyone is already positioned for the good news.

Will that happen this time? Who knows?

At a guess, I’d say gold and gold stocks are due for a correction. Gold has had a stellar month, and hit US$1,300 overnight for the first time since August last year. You can put the recent rise down to worries about the Eurozone…coming QE, the Greeks leaving the zone and the Swiss abandoning the currency peg.

Once ECB boss Mario Draghi makes his announcement overnight, it could give gold an excuse to put in a correction. But by the looks of things, it will be a correction to buy. The currency wars are heating up. Every country wants a cheap currency, in the idiotic belief that you can devalue your way to prosperity. Gold likes this kind of environment.

While you can’t devalue your way to prosperity, you can devalue your way to an election win, as cheap money ‘works’ in the short term. But its long term effects are devastating.

Look at the Swiss. They have the strongest currency in the world and are actively turning capital away by bringing in negative interest rates. And yet they are the richest nation in the world. They got there by following the tenets of sound money, not by trying to win a currency war.



Greg Canavan+
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Greg Canavan is a Contributing Editor at Markets & Money and Head of Research at Port Phillip Publishing. He advocates a counter-intuitive investment philosophy based on the old adage that ‘ignorance is bliss’. Greg says that investing in the ‘Information Age’ means you now have all the information you need. But is it really useful? Much of it is noise, and serves to confuse rather than inform investors. And, through the process of confirmation bias, you tend to sift the information that you agree with. As a result, you reinforce your biases. This gives you the impression that you know what is going on. But really, you don’t know. No one does. The world is far too complex to understand. When you accept this, your newfound ignorance becomes a formidable investment weapon. That’s because you’re not a slave to your emotions and biases. Greg puts this philosophy into action as the Editor of Crisis & Opportunity. He sees opportunities in crises. To find the opportunities, he uses a process called the ‘Fusion Method’, which combines charting analysis with more conventional valuation analysis. Charting is important because it contains no opinions or emotions. Combine that with traditional stock analysis, and you have a robust stock selection strategy. With Greg’s help, you can implement a long-term wealth-building strategy into your financial planning, be better prepared for the financial challenges ahead, and stop making the same mistakes that most private investors do every time they buy a stock. To find out more about Greg’s investing style and his financial worldview, take out a free subscription to Markets & Money here. And to discover more about Greg’s ‘ignorance is bliss’ investment strategy and the Fusion Method of investing, take out a 30-day trial to his value investing service Crisis & Opportunity here. Official websites and financial e-letters Greg writes for:

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