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Market Manipulation Goes Global

NEW HAVEN – Market manipulation has become standard operating procedure in policy circles around the world. All eyes are now on China’s attempts to cope with the collapse of a major equity bubble. But the efforts of Chinese authorities are hardly unique. The leading economies of the West are doing pretty much the same thing – just dressing up their manipulation in different clothes.

Take quantitative easing, first used in Japan in the early 2000s, then in the United States after 2008, then in Japan again beginning in 2013, and now in Europe. In all of these cases, QE essentially has been an aggressive effort to manipulate asset prices. It works primarily through direct central-bank purchases of long-dated sovereign securities, thereby reducing long-term interest rates, which, in turn, makes equities more attractive.

Whether the QE strain of market manipulation has accomplished its objective – to provide stimulus to crisis-torn, asset-dependent economies – is debatable: Current recoveries in the developed world, after all, have been unusually anemic. But that has not stopped the authorities from trying.

In their defense, central banks make the unsubstantiated claim that things would have been much worse had they not pursued QE. But, with now-frothy manipulated asset markets posing new risks of financial instability, the jury is out on that point as well.