University of Michigan Professor of Economics and Research Professor of Survey Research Miles Kimball had an interesting remark the other day in The Wall Street Journal. The article itself was a discussion of the EU’s Central Bank use of negative interest rates on deposits, of national Central Bank use of negative interest rates on deposits, even of some commercial banks such use.
In the context of an additional discussion of whether the US Fed should go that route amid concerns about whether rates are already so low in the US that there’s nothing the Fed could do to influence a future recession (assuming it’s a good idea at all for the government to interfere intervene with the market), Kimball said this:
It’s wrong to say central banks have run out of ammunition. Negative rates can be on tap before the next recession. There’s no limit to how deep we can go.
In an environment of negative interest rates—where depositors are paying the banks to store their money—why would depositors put their money into a bank, or any other financial institution, come to that, as mere deposits? These deposits are the source of funds from which banks and other lenders draw in order to make loans. Where else will such institutions get the funds to lend? If the lenders lend even less than they are now, with interest rates near zero but positive, from where will the capital come to support business factory maintenance, production expansion, short-term payroll needs, supporting credit card borrowing by consumers?
Now magnify this by the fractional reserve requirement imposed on lending institutions: a bank must keep a certain per centage of its loans outstanding as cash held in the bank, whether directly or as deposits in the Fed.