Has Quantitative Easing Worked? A Two-Part Blog Series Perspective (Part II)

Solomon-(2)Brad Solomon, Junior Investment Analyst

Part two in a two-part blog series discussing quantitative easing measures on a domestic and global scale. Part one published last week.

Transmission to Main Street has been dubious.

The Fed’s FRB/US model, which is the workhorse behind quantifying QE’s transmission mechanisms into the general economy, forecasted a 0.2 percentage-point drop in unemployment over a 2-year time horizon as a result of a $500 billion LSAP, according to then-Fed governor Stein in 2012. Given that the cumulative scale of QE in the U.S. totaled around $4 trillion over about 4.4 years, excluding intermittent periods between buying sprees, the FRB/US model would then forecast a reduction in unemployment of 1.6 percentage points. (This assumes that there are no marginally diminishing returns to QE dollars.) Building in a “lag” of six months, the actual U.S. unemployment rate fell by 4.0 percentage points during this period and currently hovers near 5%, right above what is often pegged as the natural rate of unemployment. To what extent that reduction is due to QE, though, is very difficult to answer—there is no “control subject” in real-world experiments. The next-best-option is the event study that looks at variables prior to and following some stimulus, although this risks blending the effect with some other variable. While unemployment has fallen near its natural rate, anecdotal evidence speaks to widespread underemployment

Other metrics look either ambiguous or decidedly impressive. Across the U.S., U.K., Eurozone, and Japan, industrial production growth has been significantly more volatile than it was pre-recession; unemployment has fallen, with exception of the Eurozone where it has marched further upward after a double-dip recession in 2013; household saving as a percent of disposable income has come down substantially. Lack of healthy inflation has proven to be the fly in the ointment. Nearly 30 countries have explicitly adopted inflation targeting (around half of those in the last 15 years), but the majority continue to be plagued by nagging disinflation or outright deflation. Consider the poster child Japan who pioneered QE over the 2001-2006 period in its commitment to purchase $3-6 trillion in Japanese government bonds (JGBs) per month until core CPI became “stably above zero.” While the Bank of Japan wrapped up with the program in March 2006 after witnessing year-over-year core CPI in Japan clock in just above zero for three consecutive months, this was more of a mathematical win. Headline inflation over the period picked up solely due to a rapid rise in the price of crude oil, which arguably has little connection to monetary policy. This is not to say that some commentators have not already called for an indefinite deflationary environment, or that QE’s effects on the money supply don’t appear ambiguous.

Getting back to using the U.S. as an example, income growth has not followed the drop in unemployment, and inequality has persisted. Annualized growth rates since 2010 have been near zero and well below their long-term averages, and the lack of growth is particularly pronounced in the lower income quintiles.


On another front, record-low mortgage rates are undoubtedly a product of QE but have not translated into pre-2008 home buying, even in the presence of rising FICO scores and real home prices that are hovering around their 10-year trailing average. In fairness to QE, though, there simply seems to be a lack of a relationship between the cost of borrowing money to buy a home, and the demand for borrowing that money, as evidenced by the chart below.


QE’s efficacy seems to have varied case-by-case, and there is a growing consensus that there are diminishing marginal returns to QE.

Of this last point, Japan and the ECB should take note. While the Bank of Japan refrained from expanding its QE program at its meeting this past Friday above the current $670 billion p.a. rate, such expansion remains on the table for its November and December meetings. A similar decision faces the ECB in December, and the rhetoric of ECB President Mario Draghi has been mostly dovish in tone. (The annual rate of asset purchases by the ECB currently stands at about $816 billion.) While both banks will ultimately adhere to their mandates in trying to combat deflation and negative export growth, perhaps expectations should be set low for how effective further QE will be in meeting those mandates.

Proponents of real business cycle theory would not be surprised at much of the above—that is, that aggressive monetary policy has failed to override a general shift in appetites for home-buying, tepid supply-glut disinflation, reduced appetite by banks to lend, and the preference by businesses towards doing nothing productive with bond issuance besides repurchasing their own equity. These “exogenous” factors may overpower the stimulatory nature of QE, or the problem may be one of model specification. (Getting back to the home sales/mortgage rate example, QE may do its job of lowering borrowing rates, but this may not ultimately stoke home-buying appetites, which is a failure of the assumed indirect transmission mechanism that underlies QE’s founding.) Whatever the case, while it has helped solve short-run liquidity problems by injecting cash into the financial system, QE has proven sub-optimal in terms of being a cure-all to the woe of general economic lethargy.

Further reading

  1. Fawley, Brett & Christopher Neely. “Four Stories of Quantitative Easing.” (2013)
  2. Krishnamurthy, Arvind & Annette Vissing-Jorgensen. “The Ins and Outs of LSAPs.” (2013)
  3. Klyuev, Vladimir et. al. “Unconventional Choices for Unconventional Times.” (2009)
  4. McTeer, Robert. “Why Quantitative Easing May Not Work the Same Way in Europe as in the U.S.” (2015)
  5. Raab, Carolin et. al. “Large-Scale Asset Purchases by Central Banks II: Empirical Evidence.” (2015)
  6. Schuman, Michael. “Does QE Work? Ask Japan.” (2010)
  7. Stein, Jeremy. “Evaluating Large-Scale Asset Purchases.” (2012)
  8. Williams, John. “Monetary Policy at the Zero Lower Bound.” (2014)
  9. Williamson, Stephen D. “Current Federal Reserve Policy Under the Lens of Economic History.” (2015)
  10. Yardeni, Edward & Mali Quintana. “Global Economic Briefing: Central Bank Balance Sheets.” (2015)

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Investment Insights Podcast – November 6, 2015

miller_podcast_graphicBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded November 5, 2015):

What we like: Clearer reasoning into why the economy was weak during summer months; inventories were too high, so businesses (smartly) quit building inventory allowing a drawdown; final demand for goods and services was positive; ultimately, slowdown seems temporary, lending itself to a positive outlook for fourth quarter; Central banks supporting economic growth via quantitative easing measures.

What we don’t like: Janet Yellen stated that she may in fact raise interest rates (by December); spooked the bond market as it seemed unlikely until 2016.

What we’re doing about it: Evaluating the soon-to-be-released employment report and its impact on Yellen’s potential decision.

Click here to listen to the audio recording

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Has Quantitative Easing Worked? A Two-Part Blog Series Perspective

Solomon-(2)Brad Solomon, Junior Investment Analyst

Part one in a two-part blog series discussing quantitative easing measures on a domestic and global scale.

As policy rates hover near (or below) zero, the focus has been on the timing and magnitude of rate hikes by the Fed and other central banks. Don’t worry, I’m not here to add my speculative voice to that crowded discussion. Instead, I want to provide a quick ex-post assessment of another tool that has left the spotlight after being largely phased out by the Fed. I’m talking about quantitative easing (QE)—the buying of massive amounts of financial assets—or large-scale asset purchases (LSAPs) as they are termed by some economists.

At its core, QE attempts to influence the supply and demand for financial assets, thereby shifting preferences towards spending and investment and away from saving. (For those interested in getting further into the weeds on QE’s theoretical underpinnings, check out Ben Bernanke’s 2012 Jackson Hole speech, Jeremy Stein’s remarks that same year, or this release by the IMF.) Among the U.S., U.K., Japan, and the ECB, the scope of QE to date has amounted to around 10-20% of 2014 nominal GDP. To put that into perspective for the U.S.’s case, that is about the magnitude of U.S. total federal discretionary spending over the trailing four years.


So, with the Bank of Japan and ECB contemplating expanding quantitative easing at their upcoming meetings, does the existing research generally conclude that QE globally has been a few trillion dollars well spent? Let’s take a closer look.

LSAPs have seemed to benefit U.S. equities unequivocally well, and international equities less so. Evidence on financial system vitality is mixed.

The algebraic explanation is relatively straightforward: the yield on risk-free securities is an element of the discount rate used to value stocks and other assets. Artificially keeping this rate low, as well as creating expectations that it will stay that way, increases the discounted present value of other financial assets. However, only in the U.S. has the annualized return of that country’s respective MSCI index over the past five years exceeded the return required by a general equity risk premium of 5.57% (from Fama & French, 2002) and country risk premiums as computed by Aswatch Damodaran of NYU (2015).


Evidence on QE’s ability to reduce stress within the financial system is mixed. Event studies show that QE announcements were followed by sharp reductions in financial stress indicators, which consist of variables including the TED spread, corporate bond spreads, and beta of banking stocks. However, some studies on Japan’s experience with QE assert that it took a substantial amount of time for bank lending to improve, as banks were burdened by nonperforming loans and uneasiness towards extending credit.


Furthermore, QE may have also distorted asset prices (some have gone far enough to use the term bond bubble) while creating “price-insensitive buyers,” a term used by Ben Inker of GMO to describe an investor for whom the expected return on the asset does not dictate their decision to purchase.

Look for part two of this blog series later in the week.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.

International Insights Podcast – Europe and Negative Interest Rates

Stuart Quint, Investment Insights PodcastStuart P. Quint, CFA, Senior Investment Manager and International Strategist

This audio podcast was recorded March 19, 2015:

Stuart’s International Insights Podcast focuses on a new and growing phenomenon in European fixed income–negative interest rates

Highlights of the discussion include:

How did we get here?:

  • ECB QE drove bond values up and yields down
  • One out of every five euros of government debt trades with a negative interest rate (0 such securities existed in the summer of last year)
  • Non-ECB banks Switzerland and Sweden cutting interest rates to dissuade capital inflows in an effort to manage exchange rate
  • Asset managers and insurance companies trying to fund longer-term liabilities but they earn lower or negative spreads without price appreciation.

Potential implications:

  • Scenario 1: Little to no economic growth
    • Near-term, stimulative to European equities
    • Potentially helpful to the U.S. dollar, but less so for export earning of large U.S. companies
  • Scenario 2: Moderate to high economic growth
    • ECB potentially steps back to review QE perhaps pushing bond yields upward
    • Fixed income globally would be most at risk

Click here to listen to the full audio recording

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, a Registered Investment Advisor.

Investment Insights Podcast – February 11, 2015

Rosenberger_PodcastAndrew Rosenberger, CFA, Senior Investment Manager

On this week’s podcast (recorded February 5, 2015): We break away from our traditional format to hear Andy breakdown 2014 performance in terms of a diversified portfolio versus the S&P 500.

Highlights from the podcast include:

  • U.S. markets trumped mostly all other markets in 2014
  • Caution against knee-jerk reactions from investors to move portfolios from international to domestic
  • Encourage keeping an open mind to international opportunity given the 2014 pace of U.S. equities may be unlikely to continue
  • International markets are up year to date; U.S. slightly negative
  • Risks remain–new Greek government, elections in Spain, etc.

Listen here for the full version of Andy’s insights.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.

Monthly Market and Economic Outlook: December 2014

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

Global equity markets were positive in November, helped by optimism over the prospect of additional monetary policy easing in Japan and Europe. U.S. equity markets posted another solid monthly gain, led by large and mid cap growth companies. The energy sector was down more than -8% due to the collapse in oil prices after OPEC decided not to cut output. However, the expectation of higher disposable incomes as a result of lower gasoline prices helped push the consumer sectors higher in November.

International equities lagged U.S. equity markets again in November. The S&P 500 Index has gained almost 14% year to date through November, while the MSCI All Country World ex USA Index is flat. The U.S. dollar, which has gained over 10% so far this year, has also been a contributor. Developed market equities fared better than emerging markets in November. European equities reacted positively to the expectation that the ECB would soon announce a full scale quantitative easing program. Within emerging markets, equity market gains in China and India were offset by weak performance in Brazil and Russia.

outlook_chartDespite stronger economic data, longer-term U.S. Treasury yields continue to move lower, while rates on the shorter end of the curve were unchanged to slightly higher, resulting in a flattening yield curve. From the beginning of November through December 12, the yield on the 10-year note fell 25 basis points to 2.10% and the yield on the 30-year bond fell 32 basis points to 2.75%. The yield on the 2-year note rose 6 basis points over that same period. The Barclays Aggregate Index was up +0.7% for the month, led by government bonds.

The negative sentiment surrounding the energy sector has weighed significantly on the high yield asset class. Energy represents 13% of the Barclays High Yield Index, up from 6% of the index in 2008. The credit issues outside of the energy sector have been limited, and should the economy continue to grow, current spread levels (525 basis points above Treasuries which we last saw in December 2012) look more attractive.

Our macro outlook has not changed. When weighing the positives and the risks, we continue to believe the balance is shifted even more in favor of the positives over the intermediate-term and the global macro backdrop is constructive for risk assets. As a result our strategic portfolios are positioned with an overweight to overall risk. A number of factors should support the economy and markets over the intermediate term.

  • Global monetary policy remains accommodative: Even with QE complete Fed policy is still accommodative. U.S. short-term interest rates should remain near-zero until mid-2015 if inflation remains contained. The ECB stands ready to take even more aggressive action to support the European economy, and the Bank of Japan expanded its already aggressive easing program.
  • Pickup in U.S. growth: Economic growth in the U.S. has picked up. Companies are starting to spend on hiring and capital expenditures. Both manufacturing and service PMIs remain in expansion territory. Housing has been weaker, but consumer and CEO confidence are elevated.
  • U.S. companies remain in solid shape: U.S. companies have solid balance sheets that are with cash. M&A deal activity has picked up this year. Earnings growth has been ahead of expectations and margins have been resilient.
  • Less uncertainty in Washington: After serving as a major uncertainty over the last few years, Washington has done little damage so far this year. Fiscal drag will not have a major impact on growth this year, and the budget deficit has also declined significantly. Government spending will again become a contributor to GDP growth in 2015.

Risks facing the economy and markets remain, including:

  • Timing of Fed tightening: QE ended without a major impact, so concern has shifted to the timing of the Fed’s first interest rate hike. While economic growth has picked up and the labor market has shown steady improvement, inflation measures and inflation expectations remain contained.
  • Global growth: While growth in the U.S. has picked up more recently, growth outside the U.S. is decidedly weaker. Both the OECD and IMF have downgraded their forecasts for global growth.
  • Geopolitical risks: The geopolitical impact of the significant drop in oil prices, as well as issues in the Middle East and Ukraine, could cause short-term volatility.

Despite levels of investor sentiment that have moved back towards optimism territory and valuations that are close to long-term averages, we remain positive on equities for the reasons previously stated. In addition, seasonality and the election cycle are in our favor. The fourth quarter tends to be bullish for equities, as well as the 12-month period following mid-term elections.


Our portfolios are positioned to take advantage of continued strength in risk assets, and we continue to emphasize high conviction opportunities within asset classes, as well as strategies that can exploit market inefficiencies.