As we saw in the blog post Down down deeper and down, or a new Status Quo?, for many countries there is now a negative rate of interest on bank deposits in the central bank. In other words, banks are being charged to keep liquidity in central banks. Indeed, in some countries the central bank even provides liquidity to banks at negative rates. In other words, banks are paid to borrow!
But, by definition, holding cash (in a safe or under the mattress) pays a zero interest rate. So why would people save in a bank at negative interest rates if they could get a zero rate simply by holding cash? And why would banks not borrow money from the central bank, if borrowing rates are negative, hold it as cash and earn the interest from the central bank?
These questions are addressed in the article below from The Economist. It argues that to swap reserves for cash is costly to banks and that this cost is likely to exceed the interest they have to pay. In other words, there is not a zero bound to central bank interest rates, either for deposits or for the provision of liquidity; and this reflects rational behaviour.
But does the same apply to individuals? Would it not be rational for banks to charge customers to deposit money (a negative interest rate)? Indeed, there is already a form of negative interest rate on many current accounts; i.e. the monthly or annual charge to keep the account open. But would it also make sense for banks to offer negative interest rates on loans? In other words, would it ever make sense for banks to pay people to borrow?
Read the folowing article and then try answering the questions.
Bankers v mattresses The Economist (28/11.15)
Central bank repo rates/base rates
Central banks – summary of current interest rates global-rates.com
Worldwide Central Bank Rates CentralBankRates
- What is a central bank’s ‘repo rate’. Is it the same as (a) its overnight lending rate; (b) its discount rate?
- Why are the Swedish and Swiss central banks charging negative interest rates when lending money to banks?
- What effect are such negative rates likely to have on (a) banks’ cash holdings; (b) banks’ lending to customers?
- Why are many central banks (including the ECB) charging banks to deposit money with them? Why do banks continue to make such deposits when interest rates are negative?
- Would banks ever lend to customers at negative rates of interest? Explain why or why not.
- Would banks ever offer negative rates of interest on savings accounts? Explain why or why not.
- How do expectations about exchange rate movements affect banks willingness to hold deposits with the central bank?
- What are the arguments for and against abolishing cash altogether?
If you asked virtually any banker or economist a few years ago whether negative (nominal) interest rates were possible, the answer would almost certainly be no.
Negative real interest rates have been common at many points in time – whenever the rate of inflation exceeds the nominal rate of interest. People’s debts and savings are eroded by inflation as the interest due or earned does not keep pace with rising prices.
But negative nominal rates? Surely this could never happen? It was generally believed that zero (or slightly above zero) nominal rates represented a floor – ‘a zero lower bound’.
The reasoning was that if there were negative nominal rates on borrowing, you would effectively be paid by the bank to borrow. In such a case, you might as well borrow as much as you can, as you would owe less later and could pocket the difference.
A similar argument was used with savings. If nominal rates were negative, savers might as well withdraw all their savings from bank accounts and hold them as cash (perhaps needing first to buy a safe!) Given, however, that this might be inconvenient and potentially costly, some people may be prepared to pay banks for looking after their savings.
Central bank interest rates have been hovering just above zero since the financial crisis of 2008. And now, some of the rates have turned negative (see chart above). The ECB has three official rates:
||The interest rate on the main refinancing operations (MRO), which provide the bulk of liquidity to the banking system.
||The rate on the deposit facility, which banks may use to make overnight deposits with the Eurosystem.
||The rate on the marginal lending facility, which offers overnight credit to banks from the Eurosystem.
The first of these is the most important rate and remains above zero – just. Since September 2014, it has been 0.05%. This rate is equivalent to the Bank of England’s Bank Rate (currently still 0.5%) and the Fed’s Federal Funds Rate (currently still between 0% and 0.25%).
The third of the ECB’s rates is currently 0.3%, but the second – the rate on overnight deposits in the ECB by banks in the eurozone – is currently –0.2%. In other words, banks have to pay the ECB for making these overnight deposits (deposits that can be continuously rolled over). The idea has been to encourage banks to lend rather than simply keeping unused liquidity.
In Nordic countries, the experiment with negative rates has gone further. With plenty of slack in the Swedish economy, negative inflation and an appreciating krona, the Swedish central bank – the Riksbank – cut its rates below zero.
Many City analysts believe that the Riksbank will continue cutting, reducing its key interest rate to minus 0.5% by the end of the year [it is currently 0.35%]. Switzerland’s is already deeper still, at minus 0.75%, while Denmark and the eurozone have joined them as members of the negative zone.
But the nominal interest rate on holding cash is, by definition, zero. If deposit rates are pushed below zero, then will more and more people hold cash instead? The hope is that negative nominal interest rates on bank accounts will encourage people to spend. It might, however, merely encourage them to hoard cash.
The article below from The Telegraph looks at some of the implications of an era of negative rates. The demand for holding cash has been increasing in many countries and, along with it, the supply of banknotes, as the chart in the article shows. Here negative interest are less effective. In Nordic countries, however, the use of cash is virtually disappearing. Here negative interest rates are likely to be more effective in boosting aggregate demand.
How Sweden’s negative interest rates experiment has turned economics on its head The Telegraph, Peter Spence (27/9/15)
Central bank and monetary authority websites Bank for International Settlements
Central banks – summary of current interest rates global-rates.com
- Distinguish between negative real and negative nominal interest rates.
- What is the opportunity cost of holding cash – the real or the nominal interest rate forgone by not holding it in a bank?
- Are there any dangers of central banks setting negative interest rates?
- Why may negative interest rates be more effective in Sweden than in the UK?
- ‘Andy Haldane, a member of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) … suggested that to achieve properly negative rates, the abolition of cash itself might be necessary.’ Why?
- Why does Switzerland have notes of SF1000 and the eurozone of €500? Should the UK have notes of £100 or even £500?
- Why do some banks charge zero interest rates on credit cards for a period of time to people who transfer their balances from another card? Is there any incentive for banks to cut interest rates on credit cards below zero?
The first link below is to an excellent article by Noriel Roubini, Professor of Economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business. Roubini was one of the few economists to predict the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession. In this article he looks at the current problem of substantial deficiency of demand: in other words, where actual output is well below potential output (a negative output gap). It is no wonder, he argues, that in these circumstances central banks around the world are using unconventional monetary policies, such as virtually zero interest rates and quantitative easing (QE).
He analyses the causes of deficiency of demand, citing banks having to repair their balance sheets, governments seeking to reduce their deficits, attempts by firms to cut costs, effects of previous investment in commodity production and rising inequality.
The second link is to an article about the prediction by the eminent fund manager, Crispin Odey, that central banks are running out of options and that the problem of over-supply will lead to a global slump and a stock market crash that will be ‘remembered in a hundred years’. Odey, like Roubini, successfully predicted the 2008 financial crisis. Today he argues that the looming ‘down cycle will cause a great deal of damage, precisely because it will happen despite the efforts of central banks to thwart it.’
I’m sorry to post this pessimistic blog and you can find other forecasters who argue that QE by the ECB will be just what is needed to stimulate economic growth in the eurozone and allow it to follow the USA and the UK into recovery. That’s the trouble with economic forecasting. Forecasts can vary enormously depending on assumptions about variables, such as future policy measures, consumer and business confidence, and political events that themselves are extremely hard to predict.
Will central banks continue to deploy QE if the global economy does falter? Will governments heed the advice of the IMF and others to ease up on deficit reduction and engage in a substantial programme of infrastructure investment? Who knows?
An Unconventional Truth Project Syndicate, Nouriel Roubini (1/2/15)
UK fund manager predicts stock market plunge during next recession The Guardian, Julia Kollewe (30/1/15)
- Explain each of the types of unconventional monetary policy identified by Roubini.
- How has a policy of deleveraging by banks affected the impact of quantitative easing on aggregate demand?
- Assume you predict that global economic growth will increase over the next two years. What reasons might you give for your prediction?
- Why have most commodity prices fallen in recent months? (In the second half of 2014, the IMF all-commodity price index fell by 28%.)
- What is likely to be the impact of falling commodity prices on global demand?
- Some neo-liberal economists had predicted that central bank policies ‘would lead to hyperinflation, the US dollar’s collapse, sky-high gold prices, and the eventual demise of fiat currencies at the hands of digital krypto-currency counterparts’. Why, according to Roubini, did the ‘root of their error lie in their confusion of cause and effect’?
After promises made back in July 2012 that the ECB will ‘do whatever it takes’ to protect the eurozone economy, the ECB has at last done just that. It has launched a large-scale quantitative easing programme. It will create new money to buy €60 billion of assets every month in the secondary market.
Around €10 billion will be private-sector securities that are currently being purchased under the asset-backed securities purchase programme (ABSPP) and the covered bond purchase programme (CBPP3), which were both launched late last year. The remaining €50 billion will be public-sector assets, mainly bonds of governments in the eurozone. This extended programme of asset purchases will begin in March this year and continue until at least September 2016, bringing the total of asset purchased by that time to over €1.1 trillion.
The ECB has taken several steps towards full QE over the past few months, including €400 billion of targeted long-term lending to banks, cutting interest rates to virtually zero (and below zero for the deposit rate) and the outright purchase of private-sector assets. But all these previous moves failed to convince markets that they would be enough to stimulate recovery and stave off deflation. Hence the calls for full quantitative easing became louder and it was widely anticipated that the ECB would finally embark on the purchase of government bonds – in other words, would finally adopt a programme of QE similar to those adopted in the USA (from 2008), the UK (from 2009) and Japan (from 2010).
Rather than the ECB buying the government bonds centrally, each of the 19 national central banks (NCBs), which together with the ECB constitute the Eurosystem, will buy their own nation’s bonds. The amount they will buy will depend on their capital subscriptions the eurozone. For example, the German central bank will buy German bonds amounting to 25.6% of the total bonds purchased by national central banks. France’s share will be 20.1% (i.e. French bonds constituting 20.1% of the total), Spain’s share will be 12.6% and Malta’s just 0.09%.
Central banks of countries that are still in bail-out programmes will not be eligible to purchase their countries’ assets while their compliance with the terms of the bailout is under review (as is the case currently with Greece).
The risk of government default on their bonds will be largely (80%) covered by the individual countries’ central banks, not by the central banks collectively. Only 20% of bond purchases will be subject to risk sharing between member states according to their capital subscription percentages: the ECB will directly purchase 8% of government bonds and 12% will be bonds issued by European institutions rather than countries. As the ECB explains it:
With regard to the sharing of hypothetical losses, the Governing Council decided that purchases of securities of European institutions (which will be 12% of the additional asset purchases, and which will be purchased by NCBs) will be subject to loss sharing. The rest of the NCBs’ additional asset purchases will not be subject to loss sharing. The ECB will hold 8% of the additional asset purchases. This implies that 20% of the additional asset purchases will be subject to a regime of risk sharing.
As with the QE programmes in the USA, the UK and Japan, the transmission mechanism is indirect. The assets purchased will be from financial institutions, who will thus receive the new money. The bond purchases and the purchases of assets by financial institutions with the acquired new money will drive up asset prices and hence drive down long-term interest rates. This, hopefully, will stimulate borrowing and increase aggregate demand and hence output, employment and prices.
The ECB will buy bonds issued by euro area central governments, agencies and European institutions in the secondary market against central bank money, which the institutions that sold the securities can use to buy other assets and extend credit to the real economy. In both cases, this contributes to an easing of financial conditions.
In addition, there is an exchange rate transmission mechanism. To the extent that the extra money is used to purchase non-eurozone assets, so this will drive down the euro exchange rate. This, in turn, will boost the demand for eurozone exports and reduce the demand for imports to the eurozone. This, again, represents an increase in aggregate demand.
The extent to which people will borrow more depends, of course, on confidence that the eurozone economy will expand. So far, the response of markets suggests that such confidence will be there. But we shall have to wait to see if the confidence is sustained.
But even if QE does succeed in stimulating aggregate demand, there remains the question of the competitiveness of eurozone economies. Some people are worried, especially in Germany, that the boost given by QE will reduce the pressure on countries to engage in structural reforms – reforms that some people feel are vital for long-term growth in the eurozone
The articles consider the responses to QE and assess its likely impact.
Previous blog posts
- Why has the ECB been reluctant to engage in full QE before now?
- How has the ECB answered the objections of strong eurozone countries, such as Germany, to taking on the risks associated with weaker countries?
- What determines the amount by which aggregate demand will rise following a programme of asset purchases?
- In what ways and to what extent will non-eurozone countries benefit or lose from the ECB’s decision?
- Are there any long-term dangers to the eurozone economy of the ECB’s QE programme? If so, how might they be tackled?
- Why did the euro plummet on the ECB’s announcement? Why had it not plummeted before the announcement, given that the introduction of full QE was widely expected?
The articles linked below look at the dangers of deflation and policies of central banks to counter it.
Deflation in economics has three meanings. The first is falling prices: i.e. negative inflation. The second, more traditional meaning, is a fall in real aggregate demand, resulting in lower output, higher unemployment and lower inflation – and quite possibly an actual fall in the price level. These first two definitions describe what is generally seen as an undesirable situation. The third is a slowing down in the growth of real aggregate demand, perhaps as a result of a deliberate act of fiscal and/or monetary policy. This third meaning could describe a desirable situation, where unsustainable growth is reduced and inflation is reduced from an above-target level.
Here we focus on the first definition. The first two articles look at the dangers of a fall in the price level. The chart below shows falling inflation, although not actually deflation, in China, France, Germany and the UK (click here for a PowerPoint). Several European countries, however, are experiencing actual deflation. These include: Greece, Spain, Hungary, Poland and Sweden. Inflation in the eurozone for 2014 is expected to be a mere 0.5%.
The most obvious danger of deflation (or expected deflation) is that people will delay spending on durable goods, such as cars, furniture and equipment, hoping to buy the items cheaper later. The result could be a fall in aggregate demand and a fall in output and employment.
For retailers, this is all spelling Christmas doom. Already the runup to the most crucial time of the year for shops is being characterised by a game of chicken. Shoppers are wondering how long they can leave their festive buying in the hope of late bargains.
Interest rates may be low, but for people with debts, this is being offset by the fact that inflation is no longer reducing the real value of that debt. For people with credit card debt, personal loans and most mortgages, the interest rate they pay is significantly above the rate of inflation. In other words, the real interest rate on their debt is still significantly positive. This may well discourage people from borrowing and spending, further dampening aggregate demand. And, with a Bank Rate of just 0.5%, there is virtually no scope for lowering the official interest rate further.
At least in the UK, economic growth is now positive – for the time being at any rate. The danger is becoming more serious, however, in many eurozone countries, which are already back in recession or close to being so. The ECB, despite its tentative steps to ease credit conditions, it moving closer to the day when it announces full-blown quantitative easing and buys sovereign bonds of eurozone countries. The Bank of Japan has already announced that it is stepping up it QE programme – a vital ingredient in getting Abenomics back on track and pulling Japan out of its latest recession.
In the USA, by contrast, there is little danger of deflation, as the US economy continues to grow strongly. The downside of this, has been a large rise in consumer debt (but not mortgages) – the ingredients of a possible future bubble and even a new financial crisis.
Forget what central bankers say: deflation is the real monster The Observer, Katie Allen (23/11/14)
Why Deflation Is Such A Big Worry For Europe NPR, Jim Zarroli (31/10/14)
Exclusive: China ready to cut rates again on fears of deflation – sources Reuters, Kevin Yao (23/11/14)
Central Banks in New Push to Prime Pump Wall Street Journal Jon Hilsenrath, Brian Blackstone and Lingling Wei (21/11/14)
Are Central Banks Panicking? Seeking Alpha, Leo Kolivakis (21/11/14)
- What are (a) the desirable and (b) the undesirable consequences of deflation? Does the answer depend on how deflation is defined?
- What is meant by a ‘deflationary gap’? In what sense is ‘deflationary’ being used in this term?
- Why have oil prices been falling? How desirable are these falls for the global economy?
- Is there an optimal rate of inflation? If so, how would this rate be determined?
- The chart shows that inflation in Japan is likely to have risen in 2014. This in large part is the result to a rise in the sales tax earlier this year. If there is no further rise in the sales tax, which there will probably not be if Mr Abe’s party wins the recently called election, what is likely to be the effect of the 2014 tax rise on inflation in 2015?
- If the Bank Rate is below the rate of inflation, why are people facing a positive real rate of interest? Does this apply equally to borrowers and savers?
- In what sense is there a cultural revolution at the Bank of England?