Last October, BofA looked at Europe’s €2.6 trillion in negative-yielding debt and discovered something “stunning”: Savings rates were going up not down.
Don’t believe us, just have a look at these three charts:
But how could that be? By all accounts - or, should we say, by all conventional Keynesian/ textbook accounts - negative rates should force people out of savings and into higher yielding vehicles or else into goods and services which “rational” actors will assume they should buy now before they get more expensive in the future as inflation rises or at least before the money they're sitting on now yields less than it currently is.
Well inflation never rose for a variety of reasons (not the least of which was that QE and ZIRP actually contributed to the global disinflationary impulse) and nothing will incentivize savers to keep their money in the bank like the expectation of deflation.
Well, almost nothing. There’s also this (again, from BofA): “Ultra-low rates may perversely be driving a greater propensity for consumers to save as retirement income becomes more uncertain.”
Why that’s “perverse,” we’re not entirely sure. Fixed income yields nothing, and rates on savings accounts are nothing. Which means if you’re worried about your nest egg and aren’t keen on chasing the stock bubble higher or buying bonds in hopes that capital appreciation will make up for rock-bottom coupons (i.e. chasing the bond bubble), then as Gene Wilder would say, “you get nothing.” And that makes you nervous if you’re thinking about retirement. And nervous people don’t spend. Nervous people save.
Deutsche Bank has figured out this very same dynamic. In a note out Friday, the bank remarks that declining rates have generally managed to bring consumption forward.
The impact of interest rates (nominal or real) on consumption is generally derived from a two-period consumption model. Under a given budget constraint, declining interest rates front-load consumption in the current period at the expense of the second-period consumption (inter-temporal substitution effect). Japan's household saving rate has been constantly falling since the early 1990s.
But, there’s a limit.
Essentially, the bank argues that NIRP may be the shocker that wakes the public up to the fact that if negative rates exert a negative (no pun intended) effect on long-term household balance sheets, they will stop spending. To wit:
Even if inter-temporal consumption substitution occurs from now on, if the introduction of negative interest rates reminds households of a slower pace of their future accumulation of financial assets, namely suggesting a worsening of lifetime household budget constraints, households would be forced to cut back on consumption in both the current and next periods.
So there it is again. More evidence that Europe’s (and soon to be Japan’s) adventures in NIRP are destined to fail. Surprise, surprise.
But double-, triple-, and quadruple- down they most certainly will (starting this week with Draghi) until either one of two things happens: 1) they eliminate physical cash and take rates so punitively low that saving money in a bank will wipe out your nest egg in the space of a year, or 2) they drop money from the sky in a desperate attempt to inflate away all of this debt, a move which will be swiftly followed by the ultimate Keynesian endgame or, as one might call it, "a triumphant return to Weimar."