For an economy with underutilized resources or too low a rate of inflation the traditional prescription for monetary policy is to lower the interest rate. Central banks around the world tried to do that in response to stubbornly weak economies, bringing the overnight interest rate in many countries all the way to zero. But when that didn’t seem to be getting the job done, the Bank of Japan last week decided to go negative, charging banks 0.1% interest for excess reserves. With this step Japan now joins the Euro system, Switzerland, Denmark, and Sweden, all of whom have had negative interest rate policies in place for over a year. Here I describe how negative interest rates work, what they are intended to accomplish, and some of the limitations of using this policy to try to stimulate the economy.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis announced today that U.S. real GDP grew at a 0.7% annual rate in the fourth quarter. That’s a bad quarter to be sure, and real GDP is up only 1.8% from a year ago. That’s a weak year judged by the U.S. postwar average of 3.1%, but is not far from the 2.1% annual growth we’ve been averaging since 2009:Q3.
Donald Luskin writes in the Wall Street Journal:
The global economy is slipping into recession. The evidence is showing up in all the usual ways: slowing output growth, slumping purchasing-manager indexes, widening credit spreads, declining corporate earnings, falling inflation expectations, receding capital investment and rising inventories. But this is a most unusual recession– the first one ever caused by falling oil prices.
According to the Energy Information Administration’s Monthly Energy Review database, world field production of crude oil in September was up 1.5 million barrels a day over the previous year. More than all of that came from a 440,000 b/d increase in the U.S., 550,000 b/d from Saudi Arabia, and 900,000 b/d from Iraq. If it had not been for the increased oil production from these three countries, world oil production would actually have been down almost 400,000 b/d over the last year.
As a new year gets under way [Nobel Laureate Robert] Shiller fears that advanced economies could be on the cusp of another stock market and property bubble that could end in tears….
“I’ve tried to inquire why we are having these booms right now at a time of so-called secular stagnation with low interest rates, and arrived at the thought that low interest rates are promoting these bubbles.”
Last week I discussed the tools that the Federal Reserve will be using to raise short-term interest rates as we enter the next phase of U.S. monetary policy. In brief, the Fed plans to use interest on reserves and reverse repurchase agreements as an offer to borrow back Federal Reserve deposits at an annual rate between 25 and 50 basis points (0.25% to 0.50% interest per year). That offer from the Fed puts an effective floor under the fed funds rate, which is the rate at which institutions would lend these funds overnight to other banks. When the Fed raises its offering rate, the fed funds rate should go up with it. Today I look at the implications of these new procedures for the Fed’s balance sheet.
We wish all our readers the best of everything this season.
Quick links to a few items I found interesting.