The Effect of Government Quantitative Easing on Gold and Silver

Quantitative Easing
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A country’s monetary policy usually has some kind of knock-on effect on the prices of all stocks, bonds and commodities. Of course, although we view gold and silver as precious metals, they are essentially traded as commodities. So, all monetary policies will have certain effects on the gold and silver markets. Investors are often confused about what quantitative easing really is and how this move affects markets. Let’s dive in and find out.

What is quantitative easing?

Firstly, quantitative easing is not a normal step taken by the central bank of a country. It is an extraordinary and somewhat unconventional move in which a country’s central bank basically increases the money supply. Many of you may think that’s inflation. But we must understand that quantitative easing does not involve the printing of extra bank notes. The central bank (in the UK it would be the Bank of England) simply buys government securities and other financial instruments from the market in a bid to lower interest rates and increase the money supply, thereby creating more liquidity.

So, the assumption here is that lowering of interest rates would add stimulus to the economy by encouraging industry to invest more. When companies invest and start new projects, more jobs are created and additionally, there is a positive ripple effect that kick starts smaller suppliers to also start providing services to the bigger players.

Quantitative Easing
Gold is a safe haven for investors during times of uncertainty

The benefits of quantitative easing

So, quantitative easing (QE) increases the supply of money and financial institutions benefit by increasing their capital base. This promotes lending and increases liquidity, ushering in a revival of the economy. Quantitative easing is usually a step taken when short-term interest rates have fallen to zero or are nearing zero levels. Going by past experience, we can say that if the central banks invest $600bn, the move typically triggers a fall in interest rates of 0.15 to 0.2%.


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The 2008 financial crisis and QE

The 2008 financial crisis triggered massive falls in interest rates in the UK. As the crisis broke out, interest rates were at 4.5% on 8th October 2008. By 5th March 2009, it had fallen to 0.5%. Unemployment rose as businesses failed due to their cash flows being affected by the bank’s refusal to lend. Overall consumer confidence plummeted and the entire economy entered a bearish phase. By March 2009, quantitative easing was introduced. The Bank of England put in an initial tranche of £75bn in new money, rising up to £375bn eventually.

The Bank of England actually called it ‘asset purchase facility’ and bought assets from financial institutions like high street banks. Many of us remember the bailing out of Northern Rock at the time. The Bank of England formally started its QE program on 5th March 2009 after bailing out the high street banks. Initially, it was just long-term government bonds, but by the 25th of March, the program had been expanded to purchasing corporate bonds as well, in an effort to boost business confidence and increase lending to companies. In 2013, Japan announced a massive QE program going into trillions of dollars to boost their economy, in response to the global financial crisis.

Quantitative Easing
The Bank of England introduced quantitative easing in 2009 as part of the monetary policy

In recent years, the ECB has announced a halt to its QE programme, in spite of a continuing slowdown in the European economy. The ECB is currently investing 30bn euros in buying bonds but this program will be phased out by the end of 2018.

The effects of quantitative easing on gold and silver

So, now that we know what quantitative easing is all about and how large industrialised economies used it during the global recession, let’s look at how it affects the gold and silver markets. Well, firstly quantitative easing is a step usually taken by central banks during economic turmoil. We already know that gold and silver act as safe havens during these times. So, if we look at price charts for gold during the period 2009 to 2011, we can see that gold prices skyrocketed during this period.

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According to economist Marc Faber, quantitative easing hurts currencies and sends people rushing to buy gold. In 2016 he predicted that gold would continue to rise on the back of the fourth round of QE undertaken by the US federal reserve. On June 14th, 2018 when the ECB made the announcement to phase out QE by the end of 2018, they also announced that the European economy was still soft and interest rate hikes would not take place till March 2019. This news saw the gold market responding positively on that very day. Therefore, we can surmise that while QE is good news for the economy in terms of its GDP growth at a time of crisis, it’s not good for the stability of currencies. It’s both these reasons that spur the rise of gold prices at these times.

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Image credits: Public Domain Pictures and Wikimedia Commons

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