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ECB stimulus - Q: I don't know what QE is?


Over 20,000 Irish people are in the money, earning over €200,000 per year.

Over 20,000 Irish people are in the money, earning over €200,000 per year.

Over 20,000 Irish people are in the money, earning over €200,000 per year.

Q: I don't know what QE is?

A: You are not alone. It stands for quantitative easing. This is when central banks, like the European Central Bank (ECB), create money to buy financial assets.

This is also called printing money. However, no notes are actually printed, as no physical cash is actually created.

Instead, the ECB will digitally create money, which is then deployed to purchase financial assets, typically government bonds, from banks or other financial institutions such as pension funds.

When the economy has begun to recover, the central bank then sells its assets, and sterilises the cash it receives from the sales.

So overall, no additional money remains in the system.

Q: I am with you so far. Go on.

A: QE helps lower the yield, or return, investors can get from these "safe assets".

The hope is that banks will use the extra funds to increase lending to households and businesses. The move is to make investing in safe assets like government bonds less attractive, encouraging the same investors to go out and put their money in more risky things in the search for better returns on their investment.

The theory also goes that the banks that sell these safe bonds also put their money elsewhere, like lending to people and companies, and thus helping boost economic activity.

QE is used when central banks run out of other options, such as reducing borrowing costs.

At the moment, interest rates are so low globally that further cuts would have very little effect.

Q: How much money does it involve?

A: The ECB said it would buy €60bn of public and private sector securities a month from March, until September 2016.

Generally, QE involves creating electronic money - rather than actually cranking up the printing presses - and using it to buy government bonds from the market. Willing sellers tend to be commercial banks that can recycle the money through loans to companies or consumers in the form of mortgages or car credit.

The ECB is doing this now to avoid deflation - where prices keep falling and shoppers stop buying.

Q: What will the effect be on Ireland?

A: The announcement of the massive stimulus has already sent the euro currency down to an 11-year low.

That is good for exporters as it makes the goods we produce more competitive when sold on to countries that use other currencies.

QE is also likely to see property values rising. If you are a potential buyer that is bad news. But banks will have money to lend, and are likely to find ways to make mortgages more attractive.

This could mean more cuts to variable rates. So, existing homeowners could see property values going up, taking more people out of negative equity, and those with variable mortgages could gain from lower rates. There may also be less of a risk of deflation - a dangerous situation where prices fall, people hold off spending in anticipation of more price cuts, and a vicious cycle is entered into.

The latest Central Statistics Office figures showed prices are now falling here. That could be good for a while, but not if a deflationary spiral takes hold.

Charlie Weston

Irish Independent