Negative Interest Rate Policies May Be Part of the Problem
Investors may see these experimental policy moves as damaging to financial and economic stability
Central banks around the world are developing a newfound fondness for experimenting with negative interest rate policy (NIRP) despite unknown consequences and what appears to be a chilling effect on financial markets.
After initially rejecting the idea given the uncertainties and potential for collateral damage, the European Central Bank in 2014 and the Bank of Japan last month joined the central banks of Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland in negative territory. Now it seems the Fed may be warming to the idea, having gone beyond supportive innuendo to subtle preparation for potentially engaging in NIRP. (One example: The Fed’s 2016 scenarios for bank stress tests, released in late January, included as part of the “severely adverse scenario” the potential for short-term Treasury rates to fall to negative 50 basis points.)
While there is no longer any doubt about the ability or willingness of many central banks to manufacture negative interest rates, their efficacy on growth or inflation is far from certain. In fact, policymakers may have significantly underestimated the economic risks.
The new abnormalCentral bank advocates of NIRP increasingly seem to portray it as nothing more than a natural extension of conventional monetary policy. In a “normal” interest rate cycle, central banks cut interest rates to reduce nominal and real (inflation-adjusted) interest rates; the goal is to ease the burden on debtors and lower hurdle rates for investment. The belief is that lower rates (even negative ones) are always stimulative, while higher rates are always restrictive. However, risks may increase exponentially the lower rates go and the longer they stay there.
Although it is difficult to know the counterfactual because this is such an unprecedented situation, it appears that NIRP has not been especially impactful in lifting growth or inflation, or in lifting expectations about future growth or inflation. Instead, it seems that financial markets increasingly view these experimental moves as desperate and consequently damaging to financial and economic stability.
What are the potential negative externalities that could be upsetting financial markets?HT: Barron's Focus on Funds, who has a couple other links worth a look.
At a minimum, NIRP is a contributing factor to the financial market volatility of the past few months. And contrary to current central bank dogma, NIRP is possibly one of the major catalysts behind the tightening in global financial conditions. While NIRP undoubtedly helps lower government bond yields, which in isolation represents a loosening of financial conditions, it may be causing the opposite effect on overall financial conditions: widening of credit and equity risk premiums, increased volatility and reduced credit availability from a more stressed bank system.
Moreover, NIRP may act to reduce inflation expectations embedded in financial assets rather than encourage anticipation of a return to targeted inflation. Nominal government bond yields can be decomposed into two yield components: a component that represents the expected “real” inflation-adjusted return, and a component that compensates for expected inflation. The exact decomposition is not scientifically determined; individual investors will make their own decisions. But policymakers hope that all of the downward adjustment in yield reflects a lowering of the real yield component and not the nominal yield piece that reflects inflation expectations.....MORE