How do the negative interest-rates of the ECB fit with a surging money supply?

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by Shaun Richards

Today brings an opportunity for us to combine the latest analysis from the European Central Bank with this morning’s money supply and credit data. The speech is from Executive Board member Isabel Schnabel who is apparently not much of a fan of Denmark or Sweden.

In June 2014, the ECB was the first major central bank to lower one of its key interest rates into negative territory.

Of course the effect of the Euro was a major factor in those countries feeling the need for negativity but our Isabel is not someone who would admit something like that. We do however get a confession that the ECB did not know what the consequences would be.

As experience with negative interest rates was scant, the ECB proceeded cautiously over time, lowering the deposit facility rate (DFR) in small increments of 10 basis points, until it reached -0.5% in September 2019. While negative interest rates have, over time, become a standard instrument in the ECB’s toolkit, they remain controversial, both in central banking circles and academia.

Unfortuately for Isabel she has been much more revealing here than she intended. In addition to admitting it was new territory there is a confession the Euro area economy has been weak as otherwise why did they feel the need to keep cutting the official interest-rate? Then the “standard instrument” bit is a confession that they are here to stay.

In spite of the problems she has just confessed to Isabel thinks she can get away with this.

In my remarks today, I will review the ECB’s experience with its negative interest rate policy (NIRP). I will argue that the transmission of negative rates has worked smoothly and that, in combination with other policy measures, they have been effective in stimulating the economy and raising inflation.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic that was simply untrue. You do not have to take me word for it because below is the policy announcement from the ECB on the 12th of September last year. They did not so that because things were going well did they?

The interest rate on the deposit facility will be decreased by 10 basis points to -0.50%…….Net purchases will be restarted under the Governing Council’s asset purchase programme (APP) at a monthly pace of €20 billion as from 1 November.

The accompanying statement included a complete contradiction of what Isabel is trying to claim now.

Today’s decisions were taken in response to the continued shortfall of inflation with respect to our aim. In fact, incoming information since the last Governing Council meeting indicates a more protracted weakness of the euro area economy, the persistence of prominent downside risks and muted inflationary pressures.

I wonder if anyone challenged Isabel on this?

Fantasy Time

Some would argue that this represents a policy failure but not our Isabel.

In other words, the ECB had succeeded in shifting the perceived lower bound on interest rates firmly into negative territory, supported by forward guidance that left the door open for the possibility of further rate cuts.

It is no great surprise that for Isabel it is all about “The Precious! The Precious!”

The ECB, for its part, tailored its non-standard measures to the structure of the euro area economy, where banks play a significant role in credit intermediation. In essence, this meant providing ample liquidity for a much longer period than under the ECB’s standard operations.

Yet even this has turned out to be something of a fantasy.

In spite of these positive effects on the effectiveness of monetary policy, the NIRP has often been criticised for its potential side effects, particularly on the banking sector……..In the extreme, the effect could be such that banks charge higher interest rates on their lending activities, thereby reversing the intended accommodative effect of monetary policy.

The text books which Professor Schabel has read and written contained nothing like this. We all know that if something is not in an Ivory Tower text book it cannot happen right?

Money Supply

This morning’s data showed a consequence of the Philosophy described above.

Annual growth rate of narrower monetary aggregate M1, comprising currency in circulation and overnight deposits, increased to 13.5% in July from 12.6% in June.

This is the fastest rate of monetary expansion the Euro area has seen in absolute terms. There was a faster rate of expansion in percentage terms in its first month ( January 1999) of 14.7% but the numbers are so much larger now. Also contrary to so much official and media rhetoric cash is in demand as in July it totalled some 1.31 trillion Euros as opposed to 1.19 trillion a year before. This is out of the 9.78 trillion Euros.

As we try to analyse this there is the issue that it is simple with cash as 0% is attractive compared to -0.5% but then deposits should be fading due to the charge on them. Except we know that the major part of deposits do not have negative interest-rates because the banks are terrified of the potential consequences.

We can now switch to broad money and we are already expecting a rise due to the narrow money data.

The annual growth rate of the broad monetary aggregate M3 increased to 10.2% in July 2020 from 9.2% in June, averaging 9.5% in the three months up to July.

Below is the break down.

 

The components of M3 showed the following developments. The annual growth rate of the narrower aggregate M1, which comprises currency in circulation and overnight deposits, increased to 13.5% in July from 12.6% in June. The annual growth rate of short-term deposits other than overnight deposits (M2-M1) increased to 1.4% in July from 0.8% in June. The annual growth rate of marketable instruments (M3-M2) increased to 12.8% in July from 9.2% in June.

Putting it that way is somewhat misleading because the M1 change of 158 billion dwarfs the 33 billion of marketable instruments although the growth rates are not far apart.

 

Comment

Let me now put this into context in ordinary times we would expect the narrow money or M1 surge to start impacting about six months ahead. So it should begin towards the end of this year. Although it will be especially hard to interpret as some of the slow down was voluntary as in we chose to shut parts of the economy down. Has monetary policy ever responded to a voluntary slow down in this way before?

Also if we switch to broad money we see that the push has seen M3 pass the 14 trillion Euros barrier. Again in ordinary times we should see nominal GDP surge in response to that in around 2 years with the debate being the split between inflation and real growth. Except of course we do not know where either are right now! We have some clues via the surges in bond and equity markets seen but of course the Ivory Tpwers that Professor Schabel represents come equipped with blacked out windows for those areas.

Actually the good Professor and I can at least partly agree on something as I spotted this in her speech.

With the start of negative rates, we have observed a steady increase in the growth rate of loans extended by euro area monetary financial institutions.

They did although that does not mean the policies she supported caused this and in fact the growth rate of loans to the private-sector is now falling.

She somehow seems to have missed the numbers which further support my theme that her role is to make sure government borrowing is cheap ( in fact sometimes free or even for a profit) is in play.

The annual growth rate of credit to general government increased to 15.5% in July from 13.6% in June,

We now wait to see if the famous quote from Milton Friedman which is doing the rounds will be right one more time.

Inflation is just like alcoholism, in both cases when you start drinking or when you start printing to much money, the good effects come first the bad effects come later.

Or Neil Diamond.

Money talks
But it can’t sing and dance and it can’t walk

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