Chartering the uncharted: Negative interest rates and Euro-banking
Published on March 11, 2021 by Shamika Ramanayake
The concept of negative interest rates was hardly used in banking parlance until 2009, when Sweden’s Riksbank, regarded as the world’s oldest central bank, brought the concept into the limelight by lowering the repo rate to -0.1% to revive the country’s growth 2. Although the experiment was short-lived, several advanced economies — Denmark, Switzerland, Japan and the European Central Bank (ECB) — later followed a negative interest rate policy (NIRP) 3.
Conventional banks would incentivise savers for giving up the utility value of money in the interim and subsequently charge borrowers for the utility value of such money they lend. However, NIRP goes against this equilibrium.
Why a ‘negative interest rate’?
Despite broader arguments for and against an NIRP from central bankers, economists and market operators, a number of underlying factors have accelerated its adoption in advanced economies. Whether used by Japan as a last resort for reviving long-lost growth, Sweden to target inflation, Denmark to stabilise the exchange rate or the EU to stimulate stagnant growth, the potential outcomes of adopting an NIRP are many.
On most occasions that conventional policy tools have run out of steam and been unable to stimulate demand in a downturn, central banks have resorted to pushing near-zero short-term policy rates (real rates) below the zero bound. This has mainly resulted in increased lending by banks, anticipating better returns and simultaneously persuading borrowers (households and firms) to lock in low rates on new loans or refinance legacy debt. Real equilibrium rates have been declining in advanced economies over the past two decades, for these reasons.
The ECB ventured into the uncharted territory of NIRP in 2014 by lowering the deposit facility rate (DFR) to -0.1% 4. Its cautious approach to NIRP over the next six years saw the DFR dropping further to -0.5% 5. The negative DFR essentially imposed a tax on reserve cash held by banks with their respective central banks under the Eurosystema.
NIRP effect on Euro-banking DEPOSITS
- EU banks’ deposits spiked, growing at a 2.5% CAGR over 2014–19 6. The EU household savings rateb reached its highest in 2Q 20207.
- Banks continue to delay passing on statutory costs to general retail depositors (i.e., households) 4.
- As interest rates become more negative, the pass-through effect on deposits held by corporates (non-financial corporations) intensified, as evidenced in Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands 4.
- Pressure keeps mounting on banks’ asset and liability management (ALM).
- The ECB’s appetite for a lower-for-longer policy rate to shift to higher negative-rated EU savings over time. Larger banks to be more resistant to passing through costs to retail depositors.
- Negative-rated household deposit growth over time to pose higher debasing risk to banks’ stable funding.
- To compensate for low core margins, banks are most likely to pursue unconventional riskier avenues (e.g., trading) to prop up profitability.
- EU total loans increased at a 2.7% CAGR over 2014–19 6. Housing loan growth remained strong.
- The ECB’s negative DFR contributed to an increase in lending volumes and a decrease in lending rates across loan categories 8.
- Banks’ overall terms and conditions on new loans to enterprises continued to tighten, driven entirely by riskier non-financial corporation loans 8.
- Generally low level of interest rates to increase appetite for new and refinancing loans in the housing segment.
- Impacted by the pandemic, banks’ tighter credit-control measures to continue in the near term.
- The ECB’s asset purchase programme and liquidity support measures to significantly ease banking-sector credit risk.
- EU banks’ loan-to-deposit margin cdropped to 2% in 2019 from 2.6% in 2012.
- The Eurozone remains the lowest-ranking banking region in terms of ROCE11. The cost-to-income and cost-to-asset ratios of EU banks remain above their 10-year averages 12.
- Contrary to popular notion, NIRP has a negligible effect on banks’ profitability. Borrower de-risking and loss-provision reductions are considered to be offsetting factors.
The ECB’s leniency towards the current negative DFR and accommodative fiscal policy support, aggravated by the pandemic (i.e., the largest-ever EU budgetary stimulus totalling EUR1.8tn 14), affirm the EU’s medium-term commitment to reviving the region’s subdued economic activity 13. Amid this protracted weaker EU demand, the incentive for the Euro-banking industry to pursue business remodelling agendas to reduce conventional opex through outsourcing, automation and/or hybrid solutions is likely to remain compelling for the foreseeable future. This would eventually result in banks and other financial institutions remaining more operationally agile and lean on cost to deliver better returns for a wider range of stakeholders.
How Acuity Knowledge Partners can help
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About the Author
Shamika is a Delivery manager attached to the Commercial Lending division at Acuity Knowledge Partners. Prior to joining Acuity Knowledge Partners, he worked as a Relationship manager/ARM attached to Corporate & MNC banking divisions of several leading banks in both Sri Lanka and UAE. He possesses over 18 years of work experience as a banker which includes 9 years of exposure in FI, MNC, Corporate & Commercial and GRE lending and credit portfolio management in UAE and Sri Lanka. Shamika is an associate member of the Institute of Certified Management Accountants (Australia) and the Chartered Institute of Marketing (UK). Also currently studying for Chartered Financial Analyst Level II examination.