When Easy Money Ends

Observers seize upon every new piece of economic data to forecast the continuation of quantitative easing or an acceleration of its decline. But more attention needs to be paid to the impact of either outcome on different economic players.

LONDON – The departure of US Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke has fueled speculation about when and how the Fed and other central banks will wind down their mammoth purchases of long-term assets, also known as quantitative easing (QE). Observers seize upon every new piece of economic data to forecast QE’s continuation or an acceleration of its decline. But more attention needs to be paid to the impact of either outcome on different economic players.

There is no doubting the scale of the QE programs. Since the start of the financial crisis, the Fed, the European Central Bank, the Bank of England, and the Bank of Japan have used QE to inject more than $4 trillion of additional liquidity into their economies. When these programs end, governments, some emerging markets, and some corporations could be vulnerable. They need to prepare.

Research by the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that lower interest rates saved the US and European governments nearly $1.6 trillion from 2007 to 2012. This windfall allowed higher government spending and less austerity. If interest rates were to return to 2007 levels, interest payments on government debt could rise by 20%, other things being equal.

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