Into the Unknown
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
BALTIMORE – The Dow was more or less flat on Friday. After all the excitement early in the year, stock markets seemed to have settled down. In our upcoming issue of The Bill Bonner Letter, we explore the strange territory of “NIRP” – negative-interest-rate policy.
$7 trillion of sovereign bonds now trade at negative yields-to-maturity, producing a guaranteed loss for buyers holding the bonds to term.
About $7 trillion of sovereign bonds now yield less than nothing. Lenders give their money to governments… who swear up and down, no fingers crossed, that they’ll give them back less money sometime in the future. Is that weird or what?
At least one reader didn’t think it was so odd.
“You pay someone to store your boat or even to park your car,” he declared. “Why not pay someone to look out for your money?”
Ah… we thought he had a point. But then, we realized that the borrower isn’t looking out for your money; he’s taking it… and using it as he sees fit. It is as though you gave a valet the keys to your car. Then he drove it to Vegas or sold it on eBay.
A borrower takes your money and uses it. He doesn’t just store it for you; that is what safe deposit boxes are for. When you deposit your money in a bank, it’s the same thing. You are making a loan to the bank. The bank doesn’t store your money in a safe on your behalf; it uses it to balance its books.
If something goes wrong and you want your money back, you can just get in line behind the other creditors. The future is always unknown. The bird in the bush could fly away. Or someone else could get him. So, when you lend money, you need a little something to compensate you for the risk that the bird might get away.
Distribution of negative yielding government bonds across the euro area: Lending euro zone countries money at less than zero seems especially bizarre.
A New Level of Absurdity
That’s why bonds pay income – to compensate you for that uncertainty. Inflation, defaults, depression, war, and revolution all raise bond yields because all increase the odds that you won’t get your money back.
That’s why countries with much uncertainty – such as Venezuela – have higher interest rates than countries, such as Switzerland, where the future is probably going to be a lot like the past. Venezuelan 10-year government bonds yield 31%. The Swiss 10-year government bond yields negative 0.3%.
Venezuela’s 2 year note yields nearly 50% (which is still way below the country’s true price inflation rate). As is always the case with government in danger of defaulting, Venezuela’s yield curve is deeply inverted (hence 5 year bonds yield e.g. only 35% and 10 yr. bonds approx. 32%).
The interest you earn on a bond is there to compensate you for the risk that you won’t get your money back. Or that the money you do get back when the bond matures will have less purchasing power than the money you used to buy the bond in the first place.
You never know. Maybe the company or government that issued the bond will go broke. Or maybe the Fed will cause hyperinflation. In that case, even if you get your money back, it won’t buy much.
With interest rates at zero, lenders must believe that the future carries neither risk. The bird in the bush isn’t going anywhere; they’re sure of it. As unlikely as that is, negative interest rates take the absurdity to a new level.
A person who lends at a negative rate must believe that the future is more certain than the present. In other words, he believes there will always be MORE birds in the bush.
The logic of lowering rates below zero is so boneheaded that only a PhD could believe it. Economic growth rates are falling toward zero. And at zero, it normally doesn’t make sense for the business community – as a whole – to borrow. The growth it expects will be less than the interest it will have to pay. That’s a big problem…
Because the Fed only has direct control over the roughly 20% of the overall money supply. This takes the form of cash in circulation and bank reserves. The other roughly 80% of the money supply comes from bank lending.
If people don’t borrow, money doesn’t appear. And if money doesn’t appear – or worse, if it disappears – people have less of it. They stop spending… the slowdown gets worse… prices fall… and pretty soon, you have a depression on your hands. How to prevent it?
And then the future arrived, and reality hit home. There was only one bird, and it was the Chicken of Depression.
Cartoon by Gary Larson
If you believe the myth that the feds can create real demand for bank lending by dropping interest below rates, then you, too, might believe in NIRP. It’s all relative, you see. It’s like standing on a train platform. The train next to you backs up… and you feel you’re moving ahead.
Negative interest rates are like backing up. They give borrowers the illusion of forward motion… even if the economy is standing still. Or something like that.
Charts by: Bloomberg, investing.com
Chart and image captions by PT
The above article originally appeared as “Why Negative Rates Can’t Stop the Coming Depression” at the Diary of a Rogue Economist, written for Bonner & Partners. Bill Bonner founded Agora, Inc in 1978. It has since grown into one of the largest independent newsletter publishing companies in the world. He has also written three New York Times bestselling books, Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets.
Dear Readers! We are happy to report that we have reached our turn-of-the-year funding goal and want to extend a special thank you to all of you who have chipped in. We are very grateful for your support! As a general remark, according to usually well informed circles, exercising the donation button in between funding drives is definitely legal and highly appreciated as well.
Bitcoin address: 1DRkVzUmkGaz9xAP81us86zzxh5VMEhNke
One Response to “Negative Rates and the Coming Depression”
Most read in the last 20 days:
- Fresh Mainstream Nonsense on Gold Demand
They Will Never Get It... We and many others have made a valiant effort over the years to explain what actually moves the gold market (as examples see e.g. our article “Misconceptions About Gold”, or Robert Blumen's excellent essay “Misunderstanding Gold Demand”). Sometimes it is a bit frustrating when we realize it has probably all been for naught. Gold wants to know what it has done now... Photo credit: Ajay Verma / Reuters This was brought home to...
- Switzerland About to Vote on “Free Lunch” for Everyone
Will the Swiss Guarantee CHF 75,000 for Every Family? In early June the Swiss will be called upon to make a historic decision. Switzerland is the first country worldwide to put the idea of an Unconditional Basic Income to a vote and the outcome of this referendum will set a strong precedent and establish a landmark in the evolution of this debate. The Swiss Basic Income Initiative in a demonstration in front of parliament. As we have previously reported (see “Swiss...
- Drowning the Fir
Presidential Duties Our editor recently stumbled upon an image in one of the more obscure corners of the intertubes which we felt we had to share with our readers. It provides us with a nice metaphor for the meaningfulness of government activity. First, here is a look at the picture – just quietly contemplate it for while and let it work its magic on you: Yes, these two gentlemen are actually watering a tree in the middle of a downpour... Photo via...
- Gold – The Commitments of Traders
Commercial and Non-Commercial Market Participants The commitments of traders in gold futures are beginning to look a bit concerning these days – we will explain further below why this is so. Some readers may well be wondering why an explanation is even needed. Isn't it obvious? Superficially, it sure looks that way. As the following chart of the net position of commercial hedgers illustrates, their position is currently at quite an extended...
- Heretical Thoughts and Doing the Unthinkable
Heresy! NORMANDY, France – The Dow rose 222 points on Tuesday – or just over 1%. But we agree with hedge-fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller: This is not a good time to be a U.S. stock market bull. Legendary former hedge fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller at the Ira Sohn conference – not an optimist at present, to put it mildly. Photo credit: David A. Grogan / CNBC Speaking at an investment conference in New York last week, George Soros’ former partner...
- Staying Home on Election Day
Pretenses and Conceits The markets are eerily quiet… like an angry man with something on his mind and a shotgun in his hand. We will leave them to brood… and return to the spectacle of the U.S. presidential primaries. On display are all the pretenses, conceits, and absurdities of modern government. And now, the race narrows to the two most widely distrusted and loathed candidates. US election circus: Deep State Rep vs. Rage Channeller The first, a loose...
- How the Deep State’s Cronies Steal From You
Expanding in Ireland DUNMORE EAST, Ireland – We came down the coast from Dublin to check on our new office building. For this visit, we wanted to stay somewhere different than we normally do. So we chose a small hotel on the coast, called the Strand Inn. Irish landscape with alien landing pads. Even the guys from Rigel II have heard about Ireland's corporate tax rate. Photo credit: Tourism Ireland It is an excellent place for seafood and soda bread on a...
- The Japanese Popsicle Affair
Policy-Induced Contrition in Japan As we keep saying, there really is no point in trying to make people richer by making them poorer – which is what Shinzo Abe and Haruhiko Kuroda have been trying to do for the past several years. Not surprisingly, they have so to speak only succeeded in achieving the second part of the equation: they have certainly managed to impoverish their fellow Japanese citizens. Shinzo Abe and Haruhiko Kuroda, professional yen assassins Photo credit:...
- Kuroda-San in the Mouth of Madness
Deluded Central Planners Zerohedge recently reported on an interview given by Lithuanian ECB council member Vitas Vasiliauskas, which demonstrates how utterly deluded the central planners in the so-called “capitalist” economies of the West have become. His statements are nothing short of bizarre (“we are magic guys!”) – although he is of course correct when he states that a central bank can never “run out of ammunition”. BoJ governor Haruhiko Kuroda Photo credit:...
- Revolution at the Ranch
Alarming News BALTIMORE, Maryland – An alarming email came on Tuesday from our ranch in Argentina: “Bad things going on… We thought we had the originarios problem settled. Not at all. They just invaded the ranch.” Originarios on the march... Photo credit: cta.org.ar To bring new readers fully into the picture, Northwest Argentina, where we have our ranch, has a revolution going on. Some of the indigenous people – that is, people with Native...
- How Elon Musk Helps Fools to Part Ways with Their Money
Tesla Goes Fishing Tesla Motors is up to something remarkable. But what it is, exactly, is unclear. According to the Tesla Motors website, the company’s mission is: to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport. Tesla Model 3: the company’s first “mass market” entry so to speak, which is supposed to help the world to reach the nirvana of “sustainable” transport. On the side, it is helping a number of Wall Street firms to increase their...
- The Long-Buried Secret of Napoleon Bonaparte
Family Secrets DUBLIN – The smart money is getting out while the gettin’ is still good. That’s the message we get from reading the recent headlines. Here’s the Financial Times: Redemptions from stock funds have hit nearly $90 billion this year as portfolio managers and hedge funds struggle to navigate a market that no longer seems driven by radical central bank policy. S&P 500 Index: causing navigational problems - click to...