How Money Printing Can Fail

The world economy came crashing in 2009 but was rescued through money printing. Standard economic theory would say that money printing would increase inflation, but we haven’t seen that.

If anything, the threat has been deflation (prices falling), and central banks lower interest rates or print money to cause inflation and fight deflation.

Lower interest rates encourage more people to borrow, and borrowing increases the money supply, so the effect is similar to money printing in that there is more money in the economy.

When people are confident, they tend to borrow money so that they can e.g. expand their business or buy more shares or real estate so that they can make even more money. However, when people are bearish, they don’t borrow because they may not be able to make enough money to pay off the loan, and so they tend to focus on paying off the debt. If going into debt increases money supply, paying off debt does the opposite, which is reduce the money supply. Paying off debt destroys money, which leads to deflation.

The game central banks seem to be playing is to wait for a dip in the market or a time when there is falling confidence and hence there is deflation. Then they lower interest rates or print money. People then expect the higher money supply will push up the prices of the property, shares, businesses, etc that they hold due to higher money supply increasing inflation, and then they borrow or leverage more, which pushes the market back up.

In theory, this can go on forever. As deflation occurs, just stimulate more.

There is one problem with this, which is what happens when money is printed but the recipients of printed money don’t do anything with it because they are concerned and want to “wait and see.” If interest rates are lowered, the expectation is that people will borrow more, but what if they don’t? Even if interest rates are zero, if returns on investments are negative, it’s not worth borrowing to invest. Likewise, if the recipients of printed money feel that all investments are poor and that the best use of money is to just leave it as cash, then this reduces the so-called velocity of money in the economy, which is deflationary.

In the past, assets produced great income. However, as money is bring printed in record quantities and interest rates are lowered, people are grabbing that easy money and investing it. If, say, a house in South America produced a rental yield of 10 percent, then as investors borrow money and buy the house, the prices go up, which lowers the rental yield. As the yield goes down, investors search for other assets. This is the so-called global hunt for yield.

As the global hunt for yield continues, investors need to search far and wide to find returns. Two ETFs have been released for the ASX that satisfy investor appetite for yield. There is an ETF that invests in junk bonds, i.e. lending money to bad companies (iShares Global High Yield Bond (AUD Hedged) ETF). There is also an ETF that lends money to emerging market governments (iShares J.P. Morgan USD Emerging Markets Bond (AUD Hedged) ETF).

As interest rates and money printing intensify, investors may reach the point where the global hunt for yield ends because all avenues will be exhausted. Investors then either don’t borrow at all or if money is printed and thrown at them, they do nothing with it. This bubble in yield pops.

This is when stimulus fails, and it looks like we are getting close to that day.

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