In March 2009, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) announced that it would reduce Bank Rate to 0.5%. The Committee also judged that Bank Rate could not practically be reduced below that level, and in order to give a further monetary stimulus to the economy, it decided to undertake a series of asset purchases.
Between March and November 2009, the MPC authorised the purchase of £200 billion worth of assets, mostly UK Government debt or “gilts”. The MPC voted to begin further purchases of £75 billion in October 2011 and, subsequently, at its meeting in February 2012 the Committee decided to buy an additional £50 bn. In July the MPC announced the purchase of a further £50bn to bring total assets purchases to £375 bn.
The purpose of the purchases was and is to inject money directly into the economy in order to boost nominal demand. Despite this different means of implementing monetary policy, the objective remained unchanged - to meet the inflation target of 2 per cent on the CPI measure of consumer prices. Without that extra spending in the economy, the MPC thought that inflation would be more likely in the medium term to undershoot the target.
This policy of asset purchases is often known as 'Quantitative Easing'. It does not involve printing more banknotes. Furthermore, the asset purchase programme is not about giving money to banks. Rather, the policy is designed to circumvent the banking system. The Bank of England electronically creates new money and uses it to purchase gilts from private investors such as pension funds and insurance companies. These investors typically do not want to hold on to this money, because it yields a low return. So they tend to use it to purchase other assets, such as corporate bonds and shares. That lowers longer-term borrowing costs and encourages the issuance of new equities and bonds to stimulate spending and keep inflation on track to meet the government’s target.