Leo Kolivakis, an ex-colleague of mine, and publisher of the Pension Pulse blog, has a longer article discussing this topic. I want to be brief, and will only discuss the policy framework options here.
Policy Options In A Low Interest Rate EnvironmentThe paper outlines possible policy options to work around the perceived lower bound of 0% interest rates. This supposed lower bound was the result of the fact that currency -- notes and coins -- pay 0% interest, and it would be possible to withdraw currency to avoid negative interest rates within the banking system. However, as the Europeans have proved, mildly negative interest rates would not be enough to trigger a widespread flight to cash (the Bank of Canada estimates -0.50% would not trigger a flight to currency, which is in the middle of my estimated range discussed here).
Options discussed are listed below.
- Forward Guidance. Within New Keynesian models, the spot overnight rate does not matter for much, rather it is the expected path of rates. The believers in these models argue that policy makers can bloviate about the future path of interest rates, and this will magically levitate the economy. Needless to say, I am skeptical about those models, but one may note that bond yields are driven by rate expectations. Forward guidance is a way of trying to lower bond yields, which according to conventional thinking, will stimulate the economy. Unfortunately, bond investors have no reason to believe that long-term forecasts by the central bank are accurate, and so it is unclear whether forward guidance is any more effective than any other technique of "jawboning" the market. Meanwhile, the Bank of Canada has tried this before, and its debatable how well they followed their own guidance. For example, in the January 2010 Monetary Policy Report, the Bank re-iterated a commitment keep the rate unchanged "until the end of the second quarter of 2010," but they raised rates on June 1st, which was before the end of the quarter. Obviously, not a huge miss, but it still tells us that forward guidance and $1.75 will get you a cup of coffee (my earlier article had it as $1.60; inflation!).
- Mildly Negative Interest Rates. In my view, dropping rates to -0.50% would be a net negative for the economy. It will help induce an atmosphere of panic, and crush the very large cohort of people who are saving for retirement. The increased needs for saving may drown out any positive effects for growth created by lower interest rates.
- Large Scale Asset Purchases ("Quantitative Easing"). This is either the purchase of (Federal) Government of Canada of Canada bonds, or bonds issued by other entities. Purchases of Government of Canada bonds will do exactly nothing. (I discuss this in Section 5.4 of my eReport, Understanding Government Finance.) Purchases of other issuer's securities is a loan from the Federal Government to another entity, and would do about as much as any other government lending programme (as discussed next).
- Funding for Credit. Participation in programmes where the Bank of Canada supports lending to some sector of the economy. For example, the Bank could buy car loans from banks, with the car loans meeting some particular criteria. This would presumably help out car dealers and manufacturers. Although such programmes could be useful in some countries, I have my doubts how they would work in Canada. Canada is dominated by a handful of large banks; if they are seen as creditworthy, the financial system will be able to function normally (as seen in Canada's rapid bounce back from the financial crisis). In this case, such programmes would not be needed. However, if the big banks are impaired, these programmes would be dwarfed by the problems faced by the Canadian financial system and the economy. Any return to normality would require putting the banking system back on a sound footing (requiring either regulatory forbearance, capital injection, or a debt workout).
(c) Brian Romanchuk 2015