In a widely anticipated move, the US Federal Reserve announced today that it will conduct a third round of quantitative easing (QE). The primary difference between QE3 and the Fed’s previous two quantitative easing programs is that QE3 asset purchases (which will amount to $85 billion per month, including $45 billion in mortgage debt) are open-ended and, most importantly, will continue until there is a substantial improvement in US labour market conditions. That is, the Fed has tied the duration of its latest program of asset purchases to an explicit macroeconomic objective. The Fed also extended its commitment to keep its target Federal Funds rate at near zero levels through at least mid-2015.
The theory underlying quantitative easing is that asset purchases will stimulate the economy by lowering long-term interest rates, including interest rates on mortgage debt, thus encouraging investment while giving a much needed jolt to the US housing market. While the evidence for the impact on growth and employment from past QE programs is mixed, pairing open-ended asset purchases and a commitment to keep interest rates low for an extended period with a specific objective has much support in academic literature.
The implications of the Fed’s announcement for Canadian interest rates are two-fold. One, the commitment by the Fed to keep interest rates at near zero levels until mid-2015 further constrains the Bank of Canada’s ability to raise interest rates over the same period. Particularly as Canadian exports have already softened under the weight of an appreciating loonie. Second, already low long-term bond-yields will likely price-in a continuation of very low short-term rates and will therefore likely remain at historically low levels for an extended period which should keep Canadian mortgage rates well-anchored to current historically low levels.
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