How monetary policy works
The Eurosystem’s monetary policy strategy is based on the definition of price stability and on two interdependent analyses, i.e. the economic analysis and the monetary and financial analysis.
The ECB implements monetary policy by setting short-term interest rates, thus influencing price stability and the pace of economic development in the euro area over the medium term.
Monetary policy affects economy through various channels and in different time horizons, whereas the size of its full impact depends on many variables. The process through which monetary policy decisions influence economy and, in particular, the price level is called monetary policy transmission.
Official interest rates: what are they and how do they work?
The setting of official interest rates is the main standard monetary policy instrument. The central bank uses these interest rates to provide funds to or borrow from the banking system. The change in official interest rates may affect:
- short-term money market interest rates and expectations;
- bond yields;
- bank borrowing and lending rates as well as credit and money supply;
- saving and investment decisions;
- asset prices and exchange rates;
- aggregate demand and prices.
How do monetary policy decisions affect economy and prices?
Changes in the ECB official interest rates affect short-term money-market interest rates directly, while lending and deposit rates, which are set by credit institutions, are affected indirectly. Monetary policy decisions influence market expectations about the levels of future official interest rates, thus affecting medium- and long-term interest rates.
Changes in interest rates determine loan demand by making credit for consumption and investment more or less attractive. Movements in asset prices also have an impact on consumption and investment decisions via effects on wealth and the value of collateral. For example, higher asset prices increase wealth, which may lead to higher consumption, and raise the value of collateral, which, in turn, may lead to higher demand for credit.
Transmission channels of monetary policy decisions
The traditional bank lending channel focuses on loans supplied. In addition to this channel, there is also a risk-taking channel, constituting banks’ incentive to bear risk related to the provision of loans (the incentive may change). This channel works in two ways. Since interest rates affect asset prices and the value of collateral, they may either encourage borrowers and banks to accept higher risks or deter them from doing so. Interest rates may also either encourage economic agents to search for higher yields and riskier assets or deter them from doing so.
Monetary policy decisions influence market expectations and financing conditions, and may trigger changes in asset prices and exchange rates. By altering import prices, changes in the exchange rates can affect inflation directly, but they may also work through other channels indirectly.
The changes in consumption and investment caused by monetary policy trigger changes in the demand of goods and services, thus accelerating or decelerating the rise in prices. In addition, changes in demand may impact conditions in the labour market, the market of intermediate goods and services as well as affect their prices.
The Eurosystem seeks to ensure that the inflation expectations of companies and other economic agents are in line with the definition of price stability. Accordingly, such expectations would also influence the price-setting behaviour of enterprises.
Since the intensification of tensions in financial markets in 2007 and the global financial crisis in 2008–2009, the Eurosystem, like the other world’s global central banks, has started applying a number of non-standard monetary policy measures alongside the standard ones.
Central banks employ standard monetary policy measures (open market operations, reserve requirements and standing facilities) for regulating the standard operational monetary policy objective, which is usually short-term interest rate.
However, in the period since the global financial crisis, even reducing official interest rates to zero has turned out to be insufficient in order to achieve the monetary policy objectives. In this context, the Eurosystem, like the other world’s global central banks, has also implemented non-standard monetary policy measures: large-scale long-term lending and securities purchases, negative official interest rates and guidelines for future monetary policy.
How does quantitative easing work?
By buying assets from commercial banks, central bank, if needed, helps to boost economic growth and return inflation to the level consistent with the definition of price stability. When buying assets, the economy is stimulated through the following main channels:
- the direct impact channel, by driving down the yields of purchased debt securities;
- the credit channel, by easing corporate and household financing conditions;
- the investment portfolio rebalancing channel, which transmits the effects of the first two channels to other financial markets. When the central bank purchases assets from investors, they change the composition of their investment portfolios by channelling investments into securities and other financial assets not purchased by the central bank;
- the signalling channel, by communicating the central bank’s commitment to maintain a high degree of accommodative monetary policy for an extended period of time.