How Global Central Banks are Responding to COVID-19, in One Chart
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How Global Central Banks are Responding to COVID-19, in One Chart

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Central Bank Policy COVID-19

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How Global Central Banks are Responding to COVID-19

When times get tough, central banks typically act as the first line of defense.

However, modern economies are incredibly complex—and calamities like the 2008 financial crisis have already pushed traditional policy tools to their limits. In response, some central banks have turned to newer, more unconventional strategies such as quantitative easing and negative interest rates to do their work.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, central banks are once again taking decisive action. To help us understand what’s being done, today’s infographic uses data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to compare the policy responses of 29 systemically important economies.

The Central Bank Toolkit

To begin, here are brief descriptions of each policy, which the IMF sorts into four categories:

1. Monetary Policies

Policies designed to control the money supply and promote stable economic growth.

Policy NameIntended Effect
Policy rate cutsStimulates economic activity by decreasing the cost of borrowing
Central bank liquidity supportProvides distressed markets with additional liquidity, often in the form of loans
Central bank swap linesAgreements between the U.S. Fed and foreign central banks to enhance the provision of U.S. dollar liquidity
Central bank asset purchase schemesUses newly-created currency to buy large quantities of financial assets, such as government bonds. This increases the money supply and decreases longer-term rates

2. External Policies

Policies designed to mitigate the effects of external economic shocks.

Policy NameIntended Effect
Foreign currency interventionStabilizes the national currency by intervening in the foreign exchange market
Capital flow measuresRestrictions, such as tariffs and volume limits, on the flow of foreign capital in and out of a country

3. Financial Policies for Banks

Policies designed to support the banking system in times of distress.

Policy NameIntended Effect
Easing of the countercyclical capital bufferA reduction in the amount of liquid assets required to protect banks against cyclical risks
Easing of systemic risk or domestic capital bufferA reduction in the amount of liquid assets required to protect banks against unforeseen risks
Use of capital buffersAllows banks to use their capital buffers to enhance relief measures
Use of liquidity buffersAllows banks to use their liquidity buffers to meet unexpected cash flow needs
Adjustments to loan loss provision requirementsThe level of provisions required to protect banks against borrower defaults are eased

4. Financial Policies for Borrowers

Policies designed to improve access to capital as well as provide relief for borrowers.

Policy NameIntended Effect
State loans or credit guaranteesEnsures businesses of all sizes have adequate access to capital
Restructuring of loan terms or moratorium on paymentsProvides borrowers with financial assistance by altering terms or deferring payments

Putting Policies Into Practice

Let’s take a closer look at how these policy tools are being applied in the real world, particularly in the context of how central banks are battling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Monetary Policies

So far, many central banks have enacted expansionary monetary policies to boost slowing economies throughout the pandemic.

One widely used tool has been policy rate cuts, or cuts to interest rates. The theory behind rate cuts is relatively straightforward—a central bank places downward pressure on short-term interest rates, decreasing the overall cost of borrowing. This ideally stimulates business investment and consumer spending.

If short-term rates are already near zero, reducing them further may have little to no effect. For this reason, central banks have leaned on asset purchase schemes (quantitative easing) to place downward pressure on longer-term rates. This policy has been a cornerstone of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s (Fed) COVID-19 response, in which newly-created currency is used to buy hundreds of billions of dollars of assets such as government bonds.

When the media says the Fed is “printing money”, this is what they’re actually referring to.

2. External Policies

External policies were less relied upon by the systemically important central banks covered in today’s graphic.

That’s because foreign currency interventions, central bank operations designed to influence exchange rates, are typically used by developing economies only. This is likely due to the higher exchange rate volatility experienced by these types of economies.

For example, as investors flee emerging markets, Brazil has seen its exchange rate (BRL/USD) tumble 30% this year.

In an attempt to prevent further depreciation, the Central Bank of Brazil has used its foreign currency reserves to increase the supply of USD in the open market. These measures include purchases of $8.8B in USD-denominated Brazilian government bonds.

3. Financial Policies for Banks

Central banks are often tasked with regulating the commercial banking industry, meaning they have the authority to ease restrictions during economic crises.

One option is to ease the countercyclical capital buffer. During periods of economic growth (and increased lending), banks must accumulate reserves as a safety net for when the economy eventually contracts. Easing this restriction can allow them to increase their lending capacity.

Banks need to be in a position to continue financing households and corporates experiencing temporary difficulties.

—Andrea Enria, Chair of the ECB Supervisory Board

The European Central Bank (ECB) is a large proponent of these policies. In March, it also allowed its supervised banks to make use of their liquidity buffers—liquid assets held by a bank to protect against unexpected cash flow needs.

4. Financial Policies for Borrowers

Borrowers have also received significant support. In the U.S., government-sponsored mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have announced several COVID-19 relief measures:

  • Deferred payments for 12 months
  • Late fees waived
  • Suspended foreclosures and evictions for 60 days

The U.S. Fed has also created a number of facilities to support the flow of credit, including:

  • Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility: Purchasing bonds directly from highly-rated corporations to help them sustain their operations.
  • Main Street Lending: Purchasing new or expanded loans from small and mid-sized businesses. Businesses with up to 15,000 employees or up to $5B in annual revenue are eligible.
  • Municipal Liquidity Facility: Purchasing short-term debt directly from state and municipal governments. Counties with at least 500,000 residents and cities with at least 250,000 residents are eligible.

Longer-term Implications

Central bank responses to COVID-19 have been wide-reaching, to say the least. Yet, some of these policies come at the cost of burgeoning debt-levels, and critics are alarmed.

In Europe, the ECB has come under scrutiny for its asset purchases since 2015. A ruling from Germany’s highest court labeled the program illegal, claiming it disadvantages German taxpayers (Germany makes larger contributions to the ECB than other member states). This ruling is not concerned with pandemic-related asset purchases, but it does present implications for future use.

The U.S. Fed, which runs a similar program, has seen its balance sheet swell to nearly $7 trillion since the outbreak. Implications include a growing reliance on the Fed to fund government programs, and the high difficulty associated with safely reducing these holdings.

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The Top Google Searches Related to Investing in 2022

What was on investors’ minds in 2022? Discover the top Google searches and how the dominant trends played out in portfolios.

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Trend lines showing when the top Google searches related to investing reached peak popularity over the course of 2022.
The following content is sponsored by New York Life Investments

The Top Google Searches Related to Investing in 2022

It was a turbulent year for the markets in 2022, with geopolitical conflict, rising prices, and the labor market playing key roles. Which stories captured investors’ attention the most? 

This infographic from New York Life Investments outlines the top Google searches related to investing in 2022, and offers a closer look at some of the trends.

Top Google Searches: Year in Review

We picked some of the top economic and investing stories that saw peak search interest in the U.S. each month, according to Google Trends.

Month of Peak InterestSearch Term
JanuaryGreat Resignation
FebruaryRussian Stock Market
MarchOil Price
April Housing Bubble
MayValue Investing
JuneBitcoin
JulyRecession
AugustInflation
SeptemberUS Dollar
OctoberOPEC
NovemberLayoffs
DecemberInterest Rate Forecast

Data based on exact searches in the U.S. from December 26, 2021 to December 18, 2022.

Let’s look at each quarter in more detail, to see how these top Google searches were related to activity in the economy and investors’ portfolios.

Q1 2022

The start of the year was marked by U.S. workers quitting their jobs in record numbers, and the effects of the Russia-Ukraine war. For instance, the price of crude oil skyrocketed after the war caused supply uncertainties. Early March’s peak of $125 per barrel was a 13-year high.

DateClosing Price of WTI Crude Oil
(USD/Barrel)
January 2, 2022$76
March 3, 2022$125
December 29, 2022$80

While crude oil lost nearly all its gains by year-end, the energy sector in general performed well. In fact, the S&P 500 Energy Index gained 57% over the year compared to the S&P 500’s 19% loss.

Q2 2022

The second quarter of 2022 saw abnormal house price growth, renewed interest in value investing, and a bitcoin crash. In particular, value investing performed much better than growth investing over the course of the year.

IndexPrice Return in 2022
S&P 500 Value Index-7.4%
S&P 500 Growth Index-30.1%

Value stocks have typically outperformed during periods of rising rates, and 2022 was no exception.

Q3 2022

The third quarter was defined by worries about a recession and inflation, along with interest in the rising U.S. dollar. In fact, the U.S. dollar gained against nearly every major currency.

Currency USD Appreciation Against Currency
(Dec 31 2020-Sep 30 2022)
Japanese Yen40.1%
Chinese Yuan9.2%
Euro25.1%
Canadian Dollar7.2%
British Pound22.0%
Australian Dollar18.1%

Higher interest rates made the U.S. dollar more attractive to investors, since it meant they would get a higher return on their fixed income investments.

Q4 2022

The end of the year was dominated by OPEC cutting oil production, high layoffs in the tech sector, and curiosity about the future of interest rates. The Federal Reserve’s December 2022 economic projections offer clues about the trajectory of the policy rate.

 202320242025Longer Run
Minimum Projection4.9%3.1%2.4%2.3%
Median Projection5.1%4.1%3.1%2.5%
Maximum Projection5.6%5.6%5.6%3.3%

The Federal Reserve expects interest rates to peak in 2023, with rates to remain elevated above pre-pandemic levels for the foreseeable future.

The Top Google Searches to Come

After a year of volatility across asset classes, economic uncertainty remains. Which themes will become investors’ top Google searches in 2023?

Find out how New York Life Investments can help you make sense of market trends.

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