Despite Project Merlin, it would appear that there is a problem with the UK banks lending to UK non-financial corporations. The graph indicates that, since 2009, lending has been negative in absolute terms. If we factor in an inflation rate in the region of 5%, then lending in real terms has been negative since about 2008.
The policy of quantitative easing, where the Bank of England injected £200 bn into the monetary system, lowered interest rates to an effective nominal rate of about -2.5% in nominal terms and stimulated GDP by about 1.5% to 2%. This was a great success. It meant that we suffered a recession instead of an economic slump. However, it was also something of a blunt instrument in that much of the injection did not make it to the real economy. The policy also diverted cash from one idle pool of money (the gilts market) into another (the stock market). It is no accident that the FTSE 100 share index rose by 50% during the period in which the Bank of England made its purchases.
That, of course, does not mean that the policy would continue to work if it were to be repeated. For the policy to work, there needs to be a more direct link between bond purchases and bank lending. The proposal for QE2 to but bank bonds rather than gilts might go some way to address that problem. It would be a way to give Project Merlin some teeth. There is the possibility of some capital loss on the part of the Bank of England, but given the levels of profit made during the onset of the credit crunch, these do not need to be substantial.
If monetary policy is to be the chosen route - and I have to say that a fiscal stimulus aimed at low income families would be more preferable - then a monetary easing directed at small business is unlikely to do much harm. It may even help to boost growth a bit.
© The European Futures Observatory 2011