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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Negative interest rates and saving

The latest speech by the RBA’s Governor Philip Lowe, they have ruled out negative interest rates as an alternative monetary policy option for Australia in the near future.

In the discussion, the RBA outlined the cost side of this tool, namely “They can also encourage people to save more, rather than spend more, so they can be counter-productive from that perspective too.”

I would like to discuss this further as it is contrary to how we often talk about monetary policy, and fleshing it out helps to make some of the assumptions made clearer. 

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Negative interest rates and commodity markets

Negative interest rates are in the news. In response to imploding economies and very low inflation rates, some commentators have argued that central banks should cut nominal interest rates below zero to try and stimulate economic activity. Others including Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell are less enthusiastic, noting that that there is little evidence that negative interest rates have a substantial stimulatory effect. Either way, the whole proposition raises several interesting economic issues that concern the way that monetary policy affects the distribution of income and consumption.

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What does cash hoarding mean for the economy?

New Zealand banks noticed an increase in cash withdrawals by households since the day of lockdown announcement. Banks believe this might be due to the panic stockpiling of nervous households as was mentioned in the article.

In this post I want to discuss what drives the households to behave in this way, and how this comes into our thinking about economics and monetary policy. 

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MPCs, multipliers, and our 1st year ECON model

I have been preparing my lecture content for macroeconomics later in the year, and have thought it would be a bit of fun to finish with the following: discuss why the initial marginal propensity to consumer and the final multiplier on any “initial expenditure impulse” need not be related to each other.

This is an issue that I’d cover after discussing Ricardian Equivalence, and think it matters given the increasing relevance of zero-lower bound economics for students in the current environment – and some of the discussion on NBER about multipliers, and HANK vs RANK (heterogeneous vs representative agent models) models of monetary policy.

Note: These non-standard models are cool, and much more “Keynesian” – but I think the more basic description below is important for keeping us humble about our ability to control things.

Now none of this will go into any detail on the more complex models (and ideas of expectations) – it will just ensure that we aren’t “losing money as an asset from our mental model” and should be read as such.

The circular flow (the description ECON141 is all about) describes the flow of funds around the economy, and the key thing is showing that if there is more dollars going around that flow in a period of time there is by definition more nominal activity – be it through higher prices or higher output. This insight can easily get lost in the discussion of individual channels during the course.

Happy with thoughts below – this is likely to be a non-assessed topic for eager students.

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