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Another central bank easing cycle begins

Central banks already have started priming their collective money printers and in the coming months are poised to crank them up to 11, buying up more bonds and delivering more liquidity to markets.

Why it matters: The recent rally in equities now has more backing from central banks.

  • This could be especially beneficial in the U.S. where companies have thrived on low rates and easy money while trimming their bottom lines through layoffs.
  • And while the possibility of lockdown measures returning could again wreak havoc on real and local economies around the globe, as COVID-19 cases increase and hospital beds fill up, stocks could race to new highs.

What's happening: On Thursday, the Bank of England said it would buy an additional $197 billion of U.K. government debt, following the Reserve Bank of Australia's announcement that it would engage in QE for the first time, buying $73 billion in government bonds.

Back home: Fed chair Jerome Powell made clear at November's FOMC press conference last week that the Fed is prepared to join the party.

  • "We’re strongly committed to using these powerful tools that we have to support the economy during this difficult time for as long as needed and no one should have any doubt about that,” Powell said.

By the numbers: As of October, the Fed, ECB, Bank of Japan and People's Bank of China held $26.8 trillion on their collective balance sheets, having increased their bond-buying programs by 38.5% over last year, per Yardeni Research.

  • The Fed, ECB and BOJ have increased their collective programs by 50%.

Between the lines: September marked the 20th straight month of interest rate cuts for central banks in developing countries.

  • At least 18 emerging market central banks have set up and carried out asset-purchase programs of some kind, according to the IMF, with many delivering outright quantitative easing. (The only real difference being that some central banks are buying their country's government bonds even before cutting interest rates to 0%.)

Yes, but: Some argue, monetary policy is reaching the limits of its effectiveness.

  • "Markets aren’t facing liquidity issues," WSJ's Jon Sindreu writes. "When a car isn’t short on fuel, adding more gas to the tank doesn’t make it run faster."
  • "Buying more bonds is mostly meaningless because it doesn’t tell the market anything it doesn’t know."

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