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)
- 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?