From the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Liberty Street blog:
The United States has slid into eight recessions in the last fifty years. Each time, the Federal Reserve sought to revive economic activity by reducing interest rates (see chart below). However, since the end of the last recession in June 2009, the economy has continued to sputter even though short-term rates have remained near zero. The weak recovery has led some commentators to suggest that the Fed should push short-term rates even lower—below zero—so that borrowers receive, and creditors pay, interest.
One way to push short-term rates negative would be to charge interest on excess bank reserves. The interest rate paid by the Fed on excess reserves, the so-called IOER, is a benchmark for a wide variety of short-term rates, including rates on Treasury bills, commercial paper, and interbank loans. If the Fed pushes the IOER below zero, other rates are likely to follow.
Without taking a position on either the merits of negative interest rates or the Fed's statutory authority to fix the IOER below zero, this post examines some of the possible consequences. We suggest that significantly negative rates—that is, rates below -50 basis points—may spawn a variety of financial innovations, such as special-purpose banks and the use of certified bank checks in large-value transactions, and novel preferences, such as a preference for making early and/or excess payments to creditworthy counterparties and a preference for receiving payments in forms that facilitate deferred collection. Such responses should be expected in a market-based economy but may nevertheless present new problems for financial service providers (when their products and services are used in ways not previously anticipated) and for regulators (if novel private sector behavior leads to new types of systemic risk). This post supplements an earlier post in Liberty Street Economics that reviewed possible disruptions that could result from zero interest rates....MORE