Another hint of negative interest-rates from the Bank of England

by Shaun Richards

The weekend just gone has provided another step or two in the dance being played out by the Bank of England on negative interest-rates. It was provided by external member Silvana Tenreyro in an interview published by The Telegraph on Saturday night. Perhaps she was unaware she was giving an interview to a media organisation with a paywall but this continued a poor recent trend of Bank of England policymakers making some more equal than others. As a recipient of a public salary interviews like this should be available to all and not some but it is not on the Bank of England website.

As to her views they were really rather extraordinary so let us investigate.

LONDON (Reuters) – The Bank of England’s investigation into whether negative rates might help the British economy through its current downturn has found “encouraging” evidence, policymaker Silvana Tenreyro said in an interview published late on Saturday.

It is not the fact that she may well vote for negative interest-rates that is a surprise as after all she told us this back on the 15th of July.

In June I therefore voted with the majority of the MPC to increase our stock of asset purchases. Lower gilt
yields and higher asset prices induced by QE will lead to some aggregate demand stimulus, although the low
prevailing level of the yield curve may reduce the impact somewhat, relative to some of the MPC’s previous
asset purchase announcements. As with the rest of the committee, I remain ready to vote for further action
as necessary to support the economy and ensure inflation returns to target.

So she voted for more QE ( Quantitative Easing ) bond purchases in spite of the fact that she felt the extra £100 billion would have a weaker impact than previous tranches. This means that with UK bond or Gilt yields continuing to be low and in some cases negative ( out to around 6/7 years in terms of maturity) then in any downturn that only really leaves lower interest-rates. As they are already a mere 0.1% that means a standard move of 0.25% would leave us at -0.15%

Something Extraordinary

I am pocking this out as even from a central bank Ivory Tower it is quite something.

Tenreyro said evidence from the euro zone and Japan showed that cutting interest rates below zero had succeeded in reducing companies’ borrowing costs and did not make it unprofitable for banks to lend.

Let me start with the latter point which is about it being profitable for banks to lend in a time of negative interest-rates. This is news to ECB Vice-President De Guindos who told us this last November.

Let me start with euro area banks, which have been reporting persistently low profitability in recent years. The aggregate return on equity of the sector slightly declined to less than 6% in the 12 months to June 2019. This weak performance is broad-based, with around 75% of significant banks generating returns below the 8% benchmark return demanded by investors for holding bank equity.

He went further that day and the emphasis is mine

The recent softening of the macroeconomic growth outlook and the associated low-for-longer interest rate environment are likely to weigh further on their profitability prospects. Many market analysts are concerned about the drag on bank profitability that could result from the negative impact of monetary policy accommodation on net interest margins. And net interest margins are indeed under pressure.

If we fast forward to last week there is this from Peter Bookvar on Twitter.

A chart of the Euro STOXX bank stock index. Record low. Please stop calling central bank policy ‘stimulus.’ It is ‘restrictive’ if it kills off profitability of banks.

Or there was this.

PARIS (Reuters) – Societe Generale (PA:SOGN) is considering merging its two French retail networks in an attempt to boost profitability, after two consecutive quarterly losses due to poor trading results.

We do not often look at the French banks who have mostly moved under the radar but there is “trouble,trouble,trouble” ( h/t Taylor Swift) here too.

Shares in SocGen were up 1.2% to 11.9 euros at 0843 GMT, just above their lowest level in 27 years of 11.3 euros, after it said the review would be completed by the end of November.

So profitability is fine but share prices have collapsed? I guess Silvana must have an equity portfolio full of banks waiting for her triumph. Remember the ECB is presently throwing money at the banks by offering them money at -1% in an attempt to offset the problems created by negative interest-rates.

Another way of looking at bank stress was the surge in access to the US Federal Reserve Dollar liquidity swaps post March 19th. We saw the ECB and Bank of Japan leading the charge on behalf of banks in their jurisdictions. Intermediaries were unwilling to lend US Dollars to them as they feared they were in trouble which again contradicts our Silvana.

As to companies borrowing costs they have fallen although there have been other factors at play. For example the bond purchases of the ECB will have implictly helped bu lowering yields and making corporate bonds more attractive. Also it has bought 233 billion Euros of corporate bonds which in itself suggests more was felt to be needed. Actually some 289 billion Euros of bank covered bonds have been bought which returns us to The Precious! The Precious!

Tractor Production is rising

Apparently all of that means this.

“The evidence has been encouraging,” she said, adding that cuts in interest rates below zero had been almost fully reflected in reductions in interest rates charged to borrowers.

“Banks adapted well – their profitability increased with negative rates largely because impairments and loss provisions have decreased with the boost to activity and the increase in asset prices,” she said.

This really is the banking equivalent of Comical Ali or in football terms like saying Chelsea have a secure defence.

Comment

The picture here is getting ever more fuzzy. I have no issue with policymakers having different views and in fact welcome it. But I do have an issue with claims that are simply rubbish like the Silvana Tenreyro one that bank profitability has not been affected by negative interest-rates. Even one of her colleagues is correcting what is simply a matter of fact.

BOE’S RAMSDEN: ENGAGEMENT WITH BANKS ON NEGATIVE RATES WILL TAKE TIME……….BOE’S RAMSDEN: RATES ON RETAIL DEPOSITS TEND NOT TO FALL BELOW ZERO WHICH IS RELEVANT IN UK CONTEXT AFTER RING-FENCING…….BOE’S RAMSDEN: I SEE THE EFFECTIVE LOWER BOUND STILL AT 0.1%. ( @FinancialJuice)

However as is often the way with central banks he seems to be clinging to a theory that died over a decade ago.

BOE’S RAMSDEN: I STILL THINK THERE IS LIFE IN THE PHILLIPS CURVE, THE SLOPE MAY HAVE FLATTENED.

Later we will hear from Governor Bailey who only last week was trying to end the negative interest-rate rumours that he had begun. Oh Well!

Still there is one thing we can all agree on.

BOE’S RAMSDEN: THE BURDEN OF PROOF FOR ANY FUTURE RISE IN INTEREST RATES WILL BE HIGH.

Too high…..

Continuing a theme of agreement let me support one part of the Tenreyro interview.

“Flare-ups like we’re seeing may potentially lead to more localised lockdowns and will keep interrupting that V(-shaped recovery).”

Meanwhile these  days the main player are  bond yields making the official rate ever less important. Why? The vast majority of new mortgages are at fixed interest-rates and with fiscal policy being deployed on such a scale they matter directly.

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