Economics Department Monetary Policy - the basics
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The objective of monetary policy is price stability - to maintain the value of money or, to put it another way, to restrain inflation or the general increase in the prices of goods and services. Uncertainty about inflation - and thus about future price levels - is damaging to the proper functioning of the economy. With a stable general price level, individual price signals can be read more clearly, and more rational decisions taken about whether to save or to borrow, how much to invest and to consume, and what and when to produce. In this way, price stability can help to create sustainable long-term economic growth. This is because there will be greater confidence and stability in the economy, which should lead to a higher level of investment. In terms of MEC theory, entrepreneurs will have more confidence in their investment projects due to the reduction in risk, which should shift the MEC schedule out to the right, resulting in more investment at a given interest rate (Investment rises from I1 to I2 in the diagram). Interest rate, Expected rate of return
r1 MEC(confident) MEC(normal) I1 I2 Investment
Monetary policy in the UK
In the UK in the 21st century, monetary policy operates by influencing the cost of money, i.e. the short-term rate of interest. The Bank sets an interest rate for its own dealings with the market and that rate then affects the whole pattern of rates set by the commercial banks for their savers and borrowers. This in turn will affect consumer and business demand and, ultimately, output and employment.
Broadly speaking, the objective is to keep aggregate demand as far as possible in line with the productive capacity of the economy (i.e. in line with aggregate supply). If rates are set too low this may encourage the emergence of inflationary pressures so that inflation is persistently above target. If they are set too high there is likely to be an unnecessary loss of output and employment, and inflation is likely to be persistently below target. Simple Keynesian analysis would explain this as attempting to avoid both inflationary and deflationary gaps, but essentially the Central Bank is attempting to ensure that unemployment remains as close to the NAIRU as possible, only allowing AD to expand when the capacity exists in the economy to meet it without pushing up inflation.
The Policy Framework
In June 1997, the Chancellor announced that he was setting the Bank a target of 2.5% for retail price inflation excluding mortgage interest payments (RPIX). Decisions on interest rates are normally made by the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Bank. The MPC meets monthly. The Governor is also obliged to write an open letter to the Chancellor if inflation deviates more than 1% on either side of the 2.5% target. MARCH19
The Operation of policy
The main instrument of monetary policy is the short-term interest rate. Central banks have a variety of techniques for influencing interest rates but they are all designed, in one way or another, to affect the cost of money to the banking system. In general this is done by keeping the banking system short of money (via open market operations, for example), and then lending the banks the money they need at an interest rate which the central bank decides. In this country such influence is exercised through the Bank of England’s daily operations in the money markets.
The effects of changes in interest rates on the economy
A change in interest rates will affect the economy through a number of routes.
First, a change in the cost of borrowing will affect spending decisions. A rise in
rates will make savings more attractive and borrowing less so, and this will tend to reduce present spending, both on consumption and on investment. Consumption will be reduced, as consumers may prefer to save (the mps increases), and investment will be deterred as the cost of borrowing funds increases. Interest rate, Expected rate of return
In the diagram, as the cost of borrowing rises from 4 to 10%, firms are deterred from investing as fewer projects are now viable. Investment consequently falls to I2 from I1.
Secondly, a change in rates affects the cash flow of borrowers. A rise or fall in
interest rates affects the cash flow of those with floating interest rate assets or liabilities. For example, many households have floating interest rate deposits in banks and building societies. Floating interest rate debtors include households with mortgages, and companies. An increase in interest rates would therefore increase mortgage payments to the bank, leaving consumers with less disposable income. This would be likely to reduce consumption spending overall.
Thirdly, a change in the interest rate is likely to impact on the economy through
the exchange rate. For example, a rise in domestic interest rates relative to those overseas will tend to result in a net inflow of capital, increasing the demand for £s, and appreciating the exchange rate. £ exchange rate S£ = M + Cap.
D£2= X + Cap inflows D£1= X + Cap inflows Quantity of £s In the diagram, the increase in UK interest rates leads to an inflow of short term capital from abroad ('hot money), which increases the demand for sterling on international money markets. As a result, brokers will push up the exchange rate to encourage supply and choke off excess demand.
A rising pound will reduce prices for imports, thus increasing competitive pressures and supplementing the downward pressure on inflation arising from weakened demand. At the same time, exporters may have to increase prices overseas to protect their profit margins, again reducing aggregate demand. All of these influences on demand are likely to affect prices, inflation and national output. A rise in short-term interest rates can be expected to restrain aggregate demand for UK output in the way described. That in turn is likely to put downward pressure on UK prices and the rate of inflation, as can be seen in the diagram below.
P1 P2 AD2 Real national output AD1
In simple terms the increase in interest rates has a downward impact on AD: C, I and X are all likely to fall and M is likely to rise. Therefore both demand pull and cost push pressures in the economy are likely to be reduced, and this can be seen as the fall in the price level from P1 to P2 in the diagram. Return to revision sheets