Japan announces "quantitative and qualitative easing"

¥135trn of government bonds will be bought by the central bank.

The Bank of Japan has announced it is to carry out "quantitative and qualitative easing" in an effort to return inflation to its target rate of 2 per cent in "about two years". In a statement, the bank's incoming governor has said:

In order to do so, it will enter a new phase of monetary easing both in terms of quantity and quality. It will double the monetary base and the amounts outstanding of Japanese government bonds (JGBs) as well as exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in two years, and more than double the average remaining maturity of JGB purchases.

The scale of the easing plan is enormous. The bank currently has ¥135trn of outstanding bonds, and plans to increase that to ¥270trn. That's an easing programme of £1.878trn, compared to the Bank of England's asset purchase programme of £375bn over the last few years.

But the "qualitative" aspect of the easing is even more groundbreaking:

In addition, JGBs with all maturities including 40-year bonds will be made eligible for purchase, and the average remaining maturity of the Bank's JGB purchases will be extended from slightly less than three years at present to about seven years – equivalent to the average maturity of the amount outstanding of JGBs issued.

Increasing the money supply by such a monumental amount is a risky move. The classic equation for money, MV=PY, holds that if the (V)elocity of money – the rate at which money changes hands – stays fixed, then an increase in the (M)oney supply must lead to an increase in either the (P )rice level, or output (Y), or both. The BoJ will be hoping for the price level to increase to two per cent and stay there, and for an increase in output to pick up the rest of the money; but once started, inflation can be hard to stop.

At the moment, deflation is Japan's biggest priority, but it runs the risk of jumping from the frying pan to the fire.

Perhaps the most important part of the announcement is what the FT's Kate Mackenzie calls "Communications and other Jedi matters". It's the bit where the bank attempts to push expectations in the direction they want, without actually saying what they want, because if they say what they want, people will second-guess what they want and then what they want won't actually happen the way they want it to and – look, they just said this:

The quantitative and qualitative monetary easing, introduced by the Bank today, will underpin the Bank’s commitment, and is expected not only to work through such transmission channels like longer-term interest rates and asset prices but also to drastically change the expectations of markets and economic entities.

What does it mean? We'll find out a bit more on the 26th, when the bank meets next.

Newly appointed Bank of Japan (BOJ) Governor Haruhiko Kuroda. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.