Discuss the macroeconomic effects of negative official interest rates. What relevance, if any, do the macroeconomic models have in explaining this phenomenon and predicting its likely consequences?
The negative interest rate is a recent phenomenon emerged from the global financial crisis in 2008. The negative official interest rate has become worldwide phenomenon and a part of policy initiatives by central banks around the world (Collignon, 2012) to deal with the problems of low rate of economic growth, massive unemployment and disinflation by injecting some easy money in search of some viable solution for economic recovery.
The interest rate is most crucial variable for financial industry as it has widespread effects on share prices, exchange rate and income distribution between exporting firms and consumers. IMF (2012) has mentioned the negative effects on insurance and savings in form of pension funds and financial stability is threatened in case of persistent negative interest rates. This policy can have negative consequences for growth and independence of central banks in the hands of irresponsible government decisions (White, 2012).
Money market suffers as important intermediaries like money market funds could be compelled out of business because of lost profitability that shift the interest of investors to more profitable market oriented business.
The consumers also suffer from negative interest rate in form of high global commodity prices. The reason behind this phenomenon is the changing interest and speculative behaviour of investors into high yielding assets like oil and food. The increased inflation rate results in lower purchasing power of consumers that hindered the economic recovery (Belke et al., 2010).
The negative interest rate dampen saving as it encourage people to spend more rather to save, this has long term negative effects for the people who are dependent on interest income. On the other hand the savings are not properly used for investment because of deteriorating investment efficiency.
The benefit of low interest rate includes the increasing capacity of banks to lend as a major problem the banks faced during the financial crisis was undercapitalization that restricted their capacity to make loans for recovery.
The negative interest rate can increase the wealth of households in form of higher asset prices and lower the capital cost for making investments but at the same time it gives rise to additional borrowing that increases the debt levels.
Negative interest rates can be explained in terms of Keynes theory of interest rate and theory of speculative demand for money. According to Keynes the equilibrium interest rate is the rate that equates money supply and money demand. Keynes began by asking “why an individual would hold any money above the needed for transaction and precautionary motives when bonds pay interest and money does not.” Keynes believed that such an additional demand for money exists because of uncertainty about future interest rates and the relationship between changes in the interest rate and the price of bonds. As there is an inverse relation between bond price and interest rate, Keynes speculative demand for money is the money held in anticipation of a fall in bond prices and a rise in interest rates (Froyen, 2005).
Here we observe a phenomenon of liquidity trap. It is the situation at a very low interest rate where the speculative demand for money schedule becomes nearly horizontal as shown in figure.
One implication of negative interest rates could be the liquidity trap which can lead to deep recession with deflation. It can be explained with the help of an example. In the 1990s, the interest rate in Japan was the lowest in the world and in 1998 the interest rate on Japanese six month treasury bills turned slightly negative. In such a situation Japan experienced prolonged recession accompanied by deflation which is the negative inflation rate (Mishkin, 2007). Usually it is believed that the low interest rates are a good thing because they make borrowing cheaper. But the case of Japan shows that low and negative interest rates were a sign that Japanese economy was in real trouble with falling prices and contracting economy.
Secondly, it is not attractive for the lenders to lend below 0%, as that will guarantee a loss, and a bank offering a negative deposit rate will find few takers, as savers will instead hold cash.
Countries like Denmark and Sweden introduced negative interest rates in recent years on temporary basis. In Denmark the purpose of adopting negative interest rate was to limit an unwanted rise in its currency. For this they moved to negative deposit rates. It did not cause any financial meltdown nor did it cause any noticeable change in the interest rate charged by banks for bank loans. Recently, European Central Bank has adopted the negative interest rates of -0.1% on Eurozone banks to encourage them to lend to small firms rather than to hoard cash. It is meant to boost the economy by increasing the lending to consumers and businesses.
Consequences of adopting Negative Interest Rates
- This development can have unpredictable consequences. Those consequences may include the possibility that banks will pass on to customers the costs for depositing money with the ECB.
- Also the negative return on keeping funds with the central bank might encourage banks to invest in riskier assets to secure a return.
- As an alternative investment, banks may increase their purchases of government bonds and it would have potentially serious consequences if banks are holding bonds to such an extent that government borrowing costs are artificially low. If a financial shock occurs, the banks and governments could find themselves so intertwined and interdependent that they drag each other and the economy down.
Belke, A., Bordon, I. G., & Hendricks, T. W. (2010) ‘Global Liquidity and Commodity Prices–a Co-integrated VAR Approach for OECD Countries’. Applied Financial Economics, 20(3), 227-242.
Collignon, S. (2012) ‘Fiscal policy Rules and the Sustainability of Public Debt in Europe’. International Economic Review, 53(2), 539-567.
Froyen, R.T. (2005) Macroeconomics: Theories and Policies (8th ed.). Prentice Hall: Upper Saddle River.
International Monetary Fund Staff (2011) ‘Global Financial Stability Report: Durable Financial Stability: Getting There from Here’. International Monetary Fund.
Mishkin, F. S. (2007) The Economics of Money, Banking, and Financial Market. (sixth ed.). Pearson Education.
White, W.R. (2012) ‘Ultra Easy Monetary Policy and the Law of Unintended Consequences; Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas’. Globalization and Monetary Policy Institute.