In Bloomberg last week, I argued that the price of safety is mis-priced. Real yields have been negative for the better part of the last 10 years, and have been very negative since the pandemic. And the Fed has no plans to bring it above zero. I can understand a market negative real yield from time to time for convenience reasons. But all of the time? For decades? How can you explain that? Well, I blame the Fed and regulatory policy, as well as other countries buying lots of safe assets to manage their currencies. Lately, it’s been a lot of the Fed.
The risk-free rate is always being tinkered with by policymakers. Maybe it never actually equals the market price, but sometimes it’s more distorted than others, and it seems like it’s really off right now. And if that’s true, what does that say about the price of any risky asset? Perhaps that explains why crypto currencies are worth so much despite not offering much inherent value and having such a high Beta. When celebrities are hawking an esoteric risky asset, you know something is wrong.
Risk-free assets are the most systematically important asset in markets. They touch absolutely everything. And when it goes wrong, things get real. When market prices are not market prices for years at a time, risk gets distorted, and people subsequently take on more risk than they realize. I’m not predicting a financial crisis, but I do reckon that this could be why markets are just so weird right now.
Last week, real yields, which take into account the corrosive effects of inflation, hit some of their lowest levels on record. One measure of real yields, 10-year Treasury inflation-protected securities, fell to minus 1.2%, according to Tradeweb. That is the lowest on record, according to data going back to February 2003.
In essence, with real yields negative, the purchasing power of money invested will decline over the lifetime of those bonds.
Real yields have fallen because of colliding factors. These include the highest inflation rate in over three decades combined with nominal bond yields that have risen only modestly as central banks hold back from raising rates.
The prospect of negative returns on super safe inflation-protected bonds has pushed investors to buy riskier assets.
It is becoming increasingly accepted that lowering interest rates might at some point prove contractionary (the “reversal interest rate”) if lower lending margins cut the supply of bank loans. This paper argues that there are many other reasons to question reliance on monetary policy to provide economic stimulus, particularly over successive financial cycles. By encouraging the issue of debt, often for unproductive purposes, monetary stimulus becomes increasingly ineffective over time. Moreover, it threatens financial stability in a variety of ways, it leads to real resource misallocations that lower potential growth, and it finally produces a policy “debt trap” that cannot be escaped without significant economic costs. Debt-deflation and high inflation are both plausible outcomes.
Author(s): William White
Publication Date: 5 March 2021
Publication Site: Institute for New Economic Thinking
What Can Go Wrong? • Rate and Default Interaction • Impairment to the Banking System • Massive challenges to the Insurance Industry and Pension Funds • Central Banks cannot force institutions to lend or creditworthy borrowers to borrow • Huge overhang for refi in next 5 years • “Negative Rates Cannot Cure Problems that Caused Rates to go Negative”
Author(s): Prof. Robert Jarrow, Donald R. van Deventer, Martin Zorn
Italy’s Enel SpA, one of Europe’s biggest electricity producers, has short-term commercial paper that recently offered an annualized yield of minus 0.61%, according to FactSet: That is 0.11 percentage point lower than the ECB’s deposit rate of minus 0.5%.
When interest rates are negative, borrowers pay back less than they were lent when their debt comes due. At Enel’s rate, if it borrowed $100 for a year, it would pay back $99.39. For the lender, in this case the money-market funds that buy commercial paper, the opposite is true. They get back less money.
“It took a couple of years for clients to get their heads around the idea that they’d have to pay to leave money in a safe spot,” said Kim Hochfeld, global head of State Street’s cash business. State Street’s EUR Liquidity LVNAV Fund — worth 6.6 billion euros, equivalent to $7.9 billion — yields minus 0.68% after fees, but that compares with total costs on large bank deposits of up to 1%, she added.
Germany’s biggest lenders, Deutsche Bank AG and Commerzbank AG , have told new customers since last year to pay a 0.5% annual rate to keep large sums of money with them. The banks say they can no longer absorb the negative interest rates the European Central Bank charges them. The more customer deposits banks have, the more they have to park with the central bank.
That is creating an unusual incentive, where banks that usually want deposits as an inexpensive form of financing, are essentially telling customers to go away. Banks are even providing new online tools to help customers take their deposits elsewhere.
Banks in Europe resisted passing negative rates on to customers when the ECB first introduced them in 2014, fearing backlash. Some did it only with corporate depositors, who were less likely to complain to local politicians. The banks resorted to other ways to pass on the costs of negative rates, charging higher fees, for instance.
As The Guardian and many other newspapers reported yesterday, the Bank of England yesterday announced that it was preparing the ground for negative official interest rates within six months.
As the Bank has suggested, this does not mean that there will be negative rates. But unless they allow for the possibility if that now they will, as they admit, restrict their policy options. In that case this announcement has to be seen as creating the possibility of negative nominal interest rates.
Sixth, it is an unfortunate fact that this will not work. As I have already noted, in practice we already have real negative interest rates. There is nothing new then about this policy. And since existing negative rates have not stopped people saving, making such rates official will have little macro impact. After a crisis people are cautious. They are willing to pay the price of a government guarantee. And if that is a negative interest rate, so be it. I suggest that will continue to be true for several years based on past trends.
My suggestion is, then, that the Bank can try this policy but it will be a vain attempt to stimulate the economy that will not succeed. Much more radical thinking is required to achieve that. I will address that in another post, soon. I will link it when it is up.