Institutional investor portfolio allocation, quantitative easing and the global financial crisis

Working papers set out research in progress by our staff, with the aim of encouraging comments and debate.
Published on 12 September 2014

Working Paper No. 510
By Michael A S Joyce, Zhuoshi Liu and Ian Tonks

We examine how the Bank of England’s quantitative easing (QE) policy during the global financial crisis affected the investment behaviour of insurance companies and pension funds and whether their behaviour was consistent with the operation of the so-called ‘portfolio balance channel’ that has been emphasised by UK and US monetary policy makers as a key channel through which QE works. To assess the incremental impact of QE, we need some counterfactual of how the investment behaviour of institutional investors would have changed in the absence of the policy. We construct this by conditioning on variables that explain portfolio allocation but are invariant to the QE policy itself, which allows us to construct both ex-ante and ex-post counterfactuals. Our analysis of a range of data sources, including national accounts net investment data and micro-data on life insurance companies and pension funds, suggests QE led to institutional investors shifting their portfolios away from gilts towards corporate bonds relative to the counterfactual. Although analysis of the micro-data does suggest some heterogeneity in the response to QE across different institutions, the shift into corporate bonds was quite widespread. However, portfolio rebalancing by institutional investors into riskier assets seems to have been limited to corporate bonds and did not extend to equities.

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