quick look at the 489 billion euro LTRO

When it comes to CB liquidity operations, as previously discussed, it’s about price- interest rates- and not quantities of funds. In other words, the LTRO is an ECB tool that assists in setting the term structure of euro interest rates. It helps the ECB set the term cost of funds for its banking system, with that cost being passed through to the economy on a risk adjusted basis, with the banking system continuing to price risk.

So what does locking in their funds via LTRO do for most banks? Not much. Helps keep interest rate risk off the table, but they’ve always had other ways of doing that. It takes away some liquidity risk, but not much, as the banks haven’t been euro liquidity constrained. And banks still have the same constraints due to capital and associated risks.

To it’s credit, the ECB has been pretty good on the liquidity front all along. I’d give it an A grade for liquidity vs the Fed where I’d give a D grade for liquidity. Back in 2008 the ECB was quick to provide unlimited euro liquidity to its member banks, while the Fed dragged its feet for months before expanding its programs sufficiently to ensure its member banks dollar liquidity. And the FDIC did the unthinkable, closing WAMU for liquidity rather than for capital and asset reasons.

But while liquidity is a necessary condition for banking and the economy under current institutional arrangements, and while aggregate demand would further retreat if the CB failed to support bank liquidity, liquidity provision per se doesn’t add to aggregate demand.

What’s needed to restore output and employment is an increase in net spending, either public or private. And that choice is more political than economic.

Public sector spending can be increased by simply budgeting and spending. Private sector spending can be supported by cutting taxes to enhance income and/or somehow providing for the expansion of private sector debt.

Unfortunately current euro zone institutional structure is working against both of these channels to increased aggregate demand, as previously discussed.

And even in the US, where both channels are, operationally, wide open, it looks like FICA taxes are going to be allowed to rise at year end and work against aggregate demand, when the ‘right’ answer is to suspend it entirely.

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