Posts Tagged ‘ZIRP’

When real interest rates is below zero, why save money in bank?

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

In “What will happen if RBA cuts to zero?,” we described the situation whereby interest rates in many countries are moving towards zero i.e. Zero Interest Rate Policy (ZIRP). In Australia, the interest rates are currently at 3.25%. There are talk in the financial market that more cuts are on the way.

Price inflation, on the other hand, is 3.7% for the year to December 2008- that is, according to the official CPI figures. As late as October last year, the official price inflation was running at 5%. But as we wrote in “What is your personal price inflation rate?,”

Inflation is also running high in the rest of the Western world. Worse still, many of the official measurements of inflation run counter to personal experiences.

As we quoted Ludwig von Mises in How much can we trust the price indices (e.g. CPI)?,

If she [a judicious housewife] ?measures? the changes for her personal appreciation by taking the prices of only two or three commodities as a yardstick, she is no less ?scientific? and no more arbitrary than the sophisticated mathematicians in choosing their methods for the manipulation of the data of the market.

Talking to some people from the US, we learnt that despite having an official falling inflation rate (based on CPI), people feel that things are still very expensive.

In other words, if we disregard the doctored statistics of the official figures, real interest rates are negative!

In Australia, interests from savings are taxed. This means that after tax, putting money in the bank is a losing proposition. If excessive debt is the cause of the global financial crisis (GFC), then this means that the solution is to slim down, cut down on debt and start saving. But if savers are punished with negative real interest rates, then the very poison (that caused the crisis in the first place) is used as the medicine. If a doctor do this, then he/she will be charged with criminal negligence. Yet, with interest rates in Australia projecting to fall further, the econocrats are doing this!

For foreigners, the solution is very simple- just pull your capital out of Australia. After all, who on earth will want to lend money below the rate of price inflation? If the government is really concerned about the foreign banks pulling out of Australia (and further tightening the local credit market), then wouldn’t falling interest rates worsen the situation? It has come to the point that even our local banks are murmuring about further cutting their lending rates to match RBA’s projected rate cuts. If the banks are politically pressured to cut their mortgage rate, then they will have to: (1) draw blood from elsewhere- see Canberra is destroying jobs or (2) ration capital.

For the hard-working Aussie savers, what are their options? We will look more into it in the next article. Keep in tune!

Will RBA’s cutting of interest rates help?

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

Recently, Associate Professor Steve Keen made the prediction that interest rates in Australia will be cut to zero by 2010. As this news article reported,

University of Western Sydney associate professor of economics and finance Steve Keen is radically bullish on interest rates, predicting a 2% cash rate by the end of 2009, dropping to 0% in 2010.

Dr Keen said the RBA would become more concerned about high household debt levels than inflation, as deep rate cuts in 2009 failed to stimulate the economy.

”The debt bubble is bursting and when it bursts, people stop spending and borrowing,” he said.

Investors should realise is this: if interest rates is ever cut to zero (i.e. Zero-Interest-Rate-Policy or ZIRP), it will not be good news for the economy. It will reflect the complete failure and impotence of monetary policy in regulating the ‘temperature’ of the economy. In other words, to arrive at ZIRP, it means that the economy is in a very serious trouble.

Japan fell into ZIRP in the 1990s. As we all know, the malaise in the Japanese economy lasted 16 to 17 years before a glimmer of hope was seen at around 2003. Today, due to the global credit crisis, they are falling back into the recessionary hole. With interest rates at 0.5%, they have no more room to cut further.

One thing that is different about the Japanese economy from the Australian/UK/US economies is that Japan had a relatively high savings rate. During their lost decade of the 1990s, the Japanese drew on their savings and retreated to their economic bunkers as their economy and asset prices contracted year after year.

In contrast, Australia/US/UK today have no savings and are heavily indebted.

If the RBA cut interest rates further, it will be in reaction and anticipation to Australians closing their wallets, cutting up their credit cards and shunning debt. As we explained before in Will Australia?s own pump-priming work?, all we need is for Australians to stop borrowing in order to induce a deflationary force of $250 billion. This deflationary force alone will wreck havoc to many Australian businesses, which in turn will wreck havoc to the employment market. Once mass unemployment appears, a lot of prime debt will become sub-prime debt. When debt becomes sub-prime, cutting interest rates to zero will not help.

Dangling pornography in front of a dead man will not induce him to open his dead eyes. Likewise, the RBA dangling free credit to banks (i.e. ZIRP) will no longer induce banks to lend because of the pervasive fear of bad debts. To understand this, we highly recommend that you read What makes monetary policy ?loose? or ?tight??.

Currently, Australians are voluntarily shunning debt (as shown by the rapidly decelerating rate of credit growth) as banks are still willing to lend money (although lending standards are tightening). When this voluntary action crosses over to involuntary, it will be the day when the deterioration will accelerate.