Monetary policy in a downturn: Are financial crises special?

Accommodative monetary policy during the financial crisis was instrumental in preventing a deeper recession. Views differ, however, on how long such measures should be kept in place. At the heart of this debate is the notion that a protracted period of policy accommodation could create distortions. Some would argue that any distortions will be limited in extent and that further monetary stimuli should bolster the recovery. Others fear that prolonged easing may delay much-needed balance sheet adjustments, thus entrenching weak economic performance.

Our analysis (BIS), based on a sample of 24 developed countries, indicates that monetary policy is less effective in a financial crisis, when impairments in the monetary transmission mechanism may occur. In particular, the results show that the benefits of accommodative monetary policy during a downturn for the subsequent recovery are more elusive when the downturn is associated with a financial crisis. In addition, we find that private sector deleveraging during a downturn helps to induce a stronger recovery. Both results hold even after controlling for the fiscal policy stance, real exchange rate movements and developments in the international environment. That said, the evidence is tentative owing to the restricted size and other limitations of our sample.

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