What Is Quantitative Tightening?

What Is Quantitative Tightening? | SmartAsset.com

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In the past two years, investors have taken an unusual interest in the Federal Reserve Bank. That’s mostly due to a Fed policy known as ‘quantitative tightening’, or QT. Effectively, QT was the Fed’s attempt to reduce its holdings after it bought huge amounts of debt during the 2008 Great Recession. While some details will interest only economists, QT  may have implications for financial markets and regular investors. It’s useful to explore the backstory, but a financial advisor can be helpful if you’re concerned about how Fed activity can impact your investments,.

What is Quantitative Tightening?

To understand quantitative tightening, it’s helpful to define another term, which is quantitative easing. To do that, we need to go back to the bad days of 2008.

When the Great Recession hit, the Fed slashed interest rates to stimulate the economy. But it was evident that wasn’t nearly enough to stave off crisis. So the Fed provided another jolt of stimulus by buying Treasury bonds, mortgage-backed securities and other assets in huge volume. This combination of slashing interests rates massive government spending was qualitative easing, or QE, and fortunately it worked. Banks had more cash and could continue to lend, and more lending led to more spending. Slowly, the economy recovered.

But in the meantime, QE exploded the Fed’s balance sheet, which is a tally of the bank’s liabilities and assets. Prior to the crisis, the balance sheet totaled about $925 billion. With all the purchased debt, which the Fed categorized as assets, the balance sheet ballooned to $4.5 trillion by 2017. Years past the financial crisis and with a strong economy, the Fed decided to shrink its balance sheet by shedding some of its accumulated assets, effectively reversing QE.

That reversal is quantitative tightening. QE had poured money into the economy, and through quantitative tightening, the Fed planned to take some of that money out again. First it raised interest rates, which it had plummeted to zero during the financial crisis. Then, it began retiring some of the debt it held by paying off maturing bonds. Instead of  replacing these bonds with new debt purchases, the Fed stood pat and let its stockpile shrink. This effectively reduced the quantity of money under bank control, thus quantitative tightening.

Did Qualitative Tightening Officially End?

There was no official beginning or end to quantitative tightening. The Fed began to ‘normalize’ its balance sheet by raising interest rates in December 2015, the first hike in nearly a decade. In October 2017, it began to reduce its hoard of bonds by as much as $50 billion per month. But after four 2018 interest rate cuts and some stock market downturns, many observers worried the Fed aggressive normalization was too much of a shock to the economy.

In response, the Fed ended the interest rate hikes and slowed down on debt retirement. By March 2019, the cap on reductions reduced from $30 billion a month to $15 billion. By October 2019, the Fed announced it would once again start expanding its balance sheet by buying up to $60 billion in Treasury bills a month.

However, the Fed insisted this was not another round of quantitative easing. Some market observers reacted to that announcement with skepticism. But whether this was or wasn’t a new round of QE, the Fed’s action effectively stopped quantitative tightening.

How Quantitative Tightening Impacts Markets

Many investors worry that quantitative tightening would negatively impact markets. During the past decade, returns have shown a relatively high correlation with the Fed’s purchases. Conversely, the Fed’s selloff of assets was a contributing factor to the market dip in late 2018, which left the S&P 500 about 20% below its top price.

Quantitative tightening definitely made some investors nervous. That said, there are a few things to consider if the Fed shrinks the balance sheet in the future. First, it’s unlikely the balance sheet will contract to its pre-2008 level. The Fed hasn’t indicated where a ‘happy medium’ might be, but the balance sheet remained well about the pre-2008 figures when expansion began again in October 2019.

Additionally, it’s unlikely that quantitative tightening will reverse quantitative easing’s impact on long-term interest rates. In part, the Fed purchased long-term bonds and mortgage-backed securities to move money into other areas, like corporate bonds, and lower borrowing costs. Also, the Fed hoped this activity would encourage the productive use of capital. According to the Fed’s research, the use of quantitative easing reduced yields on 10-year treasury bonds by 50, to 100 basis points (bps).

While quantitative tightening may have reversed some of this impact, experts believe it will not undo long-term interest rates by 100 bps. Ultimately, it comes down to the comparative impact of the expansion and contraction of the balance sheet. In October 2019, the contraction was not nearly sufficient to reverse the expansion.

Other Considerations of Quantitative Tightening

Many investors worry that quantitative tightening will have a big impact on inflation and liquidity. This is because changes in inflation and liquidity may occur when there is a discrepancy concerning supply and demand. During the financial crisis, the Fed increased the money supply since the economic system desperately needed liquidity. A decade and strong recovery later, there’s less liquidly preference. In response, the Fed has decreased  cash reserves. In a strong market, this should have no real impact on liquidity and inflation.

The Takeaway

Quantitative tightening is a monetary policy that increased interest rates and reduced the money supply in circulation by retiring some of the Fed’s debt holdings. After qualitative easing expanded the money supply for several years to bring the economy back on track, the Fed used qualitative tightening as a means to normalize its balance sheet.

While quantitative tightening did not completely reverse quantitative easing, it did shrink the Fed’s balance sheet. This strategy left many investors uneasy about future returns and interest rates. That said, balance sheet normalization did not prove to be as disruptive as many investors feared.

Tips for Investors

  • The Fed’s monetary policy quickly becomes complex, but it’s still useful for investors to keep an eye on the bank’s actions. Since interest rate changes can have direct impact on major purchases and investment plans, understanding the Fed’s reasoning for these decisions can be helpful.
  • Financial advisors can help their clients cut through the noise and translate technical analysis of market observers into plain language. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/drnadig, ©iStock.com/claffra, ©iStock.com/Duncan_Andison

Ashley Chorpenning Ashley Chorpenning is an experienced financial writer currently serving as an investment and insurance expert at SmartAsset. In addition to being a contributing writer at SmartAsset, she writes for solo entrepreneurs as well as for Fortune 500 companies. Ashley is a finance graduate of the University of Cincinnati. When she isn’t helping people understand their finances, you may find Ashley cage diving with great whites or on safari in South Africa.
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5 Ways to Be Financially Secure

Learning the steps toward becoming more financially secure doesn’t have to be daunting. Here are 5 easy ways to get a better sense of your finances. 

By

Albert Cooper, Partner
January 22, 2021

financial security with having a million dollars in the bank. While having a hefty bank balance does not hurt, it is only part of the story.

Many top earners are learning this the hard way recently, as the economic uncertainty has left them on the hook for expenses they can no longer afford to pay.  However, this does not have to happen to you: here are five ways to be financially secure.

When considering how to become financially secure, your priority must be to ensure that you have enough income to cover your expenses. If you cannot pass this hurdle, then you should reconsider your lifestyle. Granted, this might be harder for some people, but even if you can put away $10 per week, this will help you to have the emergency funds you need to weather times of uncertainty, such as the COVID pandemic.

Step 1: Develop good habits

Managing your finances requires discipline, which means that you need to have good habits, as this is the only way that you can keep yourself from falling into traps. One way to do this is to keep your credits cards at home when you leave the house, as this will keep you from splurging on impulse buys. You might also want to think about getting a separate bank account for your daily spending needs, because this will limit the funds available to you at any given time.

Having good spending habits means that you need to be disciplined. However, if there is a large expense that makes sense and you have planned for it, then you should consider making it.

Another healthy financial habit is to always do your due diligence. For example, according to reverse mortgage expert Michael G. Branson, you can leverage the existing value of a property you own as a senior citizen with a reverse mortgage—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t research the pros and cons. Anytime you take out a loan (whether it’s a mortgage loan, personal loan, or a payday loan), open a new credit card, or finance a new car, always look at the fine print. Pay particular attention to interest rates, penalties, annual fees, and APR.

Step 2: Leave your car at home

Or better yet, sell your car. This is especially true if you are living in a city or a town where all your daily needs can be filled from shops within walking or cycling distance. Not using your car means that you can save money on gas and maintenance, and getting rid of your vehicle altogether will eliminate monthly payments for your auto loan and insurance.

If you need a car for just a day or two, then you should consider renting or using a ride-sharing app. You could also consider purchasing a “new to you” vehicle as they will usually cost less than a new car.

Exceptions to this might be if you need to use your car for work. In this case, you are using your vehicle to make money, and as such, it might be considered an investment. However, if you are using your car to make money, then you want to make sure you are accurately tracking your expenses. Not only will this help you to get any tax advantages, but it will give you the basis to determine if the money you are spending on your car is yielding the return you expected.

Step 3: Make as many pre-tax deductions as possible

While the rules might vary depending on where you live, you want to make sure that you take full advantage of any pre-tax contributions you can make. While doing so means that you will be taking home less money, it also means that you will be paying less in tax while putting money away for your future. As such, this approach is a big win for you and your financial future.

Step 4: Be insured

Having the right life insurance policy can help to protect you and your family when the time comes. As such, you want to make sure that you have enough life insurance to look after your family and to cover funeral expenses. Also, some policies can be used as collateral for loans.

While going into debt is usually not recommended when trying to become financially secure, using it to buy revenue-generating property or business might be an excellent way to get closer to your goal. As such, having insurance could help you down the road.

Step 5: Regularly review your financial health

Just like you go to your doctor for an annual checkup, you should regularly review your financial health. Doing so will give you an idea of where you stand and what additional steps you need to take to reach your goals. If you want to become financially secure, then you want to make sure that you check your financial health (e.g., budget, savings, etc.) at least once a month.