ECON141: When cash rates go negative

Last time I discussed how the cash rate influenced the interest rate.  But what happens when the cash rate goes negative?  This is the focus of today’s post.

After recent discussions about “negative interest rates” across Australasia I thought it would be useful to talk about how these rates appear mechanically at a high level (in terms of financial system operations).

In class (and Gulnara’s posts here) the motivation of why negative interest rates might be appropriate in a policy sense was raised.  Furthermore, she did a great job of noting that it is unlikely that negative rates will cause additional savings (as some have claimed) and so theoretically we can continue to think about our investment model with negative interest rates.

For this post we will assume that the central bank is trying to influence interest rates towards a level that will “close the output gap” or “push Y to its sustainable level” and achieve their inflation target, and it just happens that this interest rate is negative.

The wrinkle is that we achieve this negative interest rate through a settlement cash mechanism – so we need to ask, how do negative rates in settlement cash accounts translate into lending and actual interest rates?

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ECON141: The cash rate and interest rates

Hi ECON141 students.  Unlike ECON130 there isn’t weekly material on this site, with lecture notes being provided instead.  However, I will add the occasional piece to help give what we are doing some context – so that it can be used to understand what is currently happening.

In that vein, today we are going to talk about how the central bank does influence the nominal interest rate in New Zealand (as compared to our still useful discussion of bond purchases in class).  By doing so we will also be able to ask about “negative interest rates” in a later post.

It should be noted that none of the content I cover here is assessed – you will be assessed on what we do in class and in the lecture notes and readings. Instead the purpose of this is to add a bit more detail about things for students who are interested.

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Is the NZ dollar 23% undervalued?

The recent data from the Big Mac index indicated that, in New Zealand a Big Mac costs $6.60 NZD.  However, in the United States it costs $5.71 USD.  As Stuff.co.nz notes this implies an exchange rate of 1.16 in USD/NZD terms (a US dollar is worth 1.16 NZ dollars) if the price of the Big Mac is the same in both countries.  

But instead google tells us the exchange rate is 1.51, and so the New Zealand dollar appears approximately 23% undervalued.  But is that true?  Should global currencies adjust to set the price of Big Macs equal in every market on earth?  Let’s think about that a bit more below.

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What is price stickiness, and what does this have to do with Chanel bags?

In this post I am going to talk about price rigidities/stickiness.  What do economists mean about price rigidities and how do we test them?  

On the face of it this sounds pretty simple – if prices change often then there doesn’t seem to be much scope for them to be sticky.  But when we think about it a bit more this isn’t true – and thinking about why it isn’t true can give us useful insights into the macroeconomy.

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Keeping track of the business cycle

Business cycles, the phases of expansion and recession in an economy, are a durable feature of macroeconomic data. Typically, quarterly real GDP data is used to determine the phase of the business cycle we are in.

Unfortunately, official New Zealand data on quarterly GDP does not go back very far in time, limiting our ability to understand recessions and expansions. Here I want to share some work I’ve done trying to build a consistent GDP series for New Zealand that goes back until 1947.

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Do we need to lower interest rates to battle COVID-19?

There is a lot of talk about a 50bp cut by the RBNZ in a couple of weeks due to COVID-19.  But what does this mean, and why are we cutting interest rates to battle a bad flu?  

In this post I am going to discuss the case for interest rate cuts during a natural disaster, to help to explain what demand shock they are battling and why this cut makes sense. The RBNZ already applied this logic during the Canterbury earthquake in 2011, so it is useful to think about COVID-19 from a similar perspective.

I’d like to thank the people I’ve chatted with about this issue to clarify what is going on – you know who you are, and I appreciate it.  The New Zealand economics community is wonderful!

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