The aim in many developed countries is to stimulate economic growth and to raise inflation within the target bands as stipulated by many government’s central banks. For some countries the immediate objective has been to prevent their currency from rising making their exports more expensive and imports cheaper. Therefore the thought of negative interest rates discourages investors from buying your currency which would push up its value. The EU, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and Japan, central banks have decided to have a negative rate on commercial banks’ excess funds held on deposit at the central bank. In effect, private sector banks have to pay to park their money – see graph below.
New Zealand is currently in a bit of a predicament in that the OCR (central bank rate) is at 2.25% which is relatively high compared to other central banks and therefore does attract ‘hot money’ into the economy – money that ‘parks’ to earn interest. However if they drop interest rates to ease the pressure on the NZ$ they run the risk of further inflating the housing market by making borrowing cheaper.
For the consumer as soon as the rate banks offer fall below 0%, savers have an incentive to withdraw their money and put it under the mattress. By charging negative rates the central banks are hoping that the trading banks will keep more of their money and therefore lend it out to investors. However the desire to reduce a banks reserves is futile as if someone borrows money from a bank and buy a new car the money is paid to the car company who will then deposit the money in their account which increases the reserves of the bank.
Overall negative rate reflect the constant state of weak aggregate demand in many developed economies since the 2008 financial crisis. Central banks have kept their policy interest rates very low to stimulate economic growth and more recently to get higher inflation. However, how low can they go?
Below is a very good cartoon from the FT looking at negative interest rates.