Monday, 20 June 2016

Negative Interest Rates and Why We Need A £1,000 Note

This popped up in the daily press summary we get...
Banks in Europe and Japan are rebelling against their central banks' negative interest rates policies. Commerzbank is considering holding cash in expensive deposit boxes instead of keeping it with the ECB, while the Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ has warned the Bank of Japan that it could stop its sales of Japanese debt.
In other words… Commerzbank are going to put the money under the mattress.

Aren’t they supposed to have unrivalled networks through which to discover great business opportunities in which to invest that money? So either Commerzbank doesn’t know about the business opportunities out there or it does and there aren’t any. Both can be true. There aren’t any and Commerzbank wouldn’t hear about them if there were. And no, before you ask, fintech start-ups and another sharing app won’t soak up that kind of cash. investment opportunities are skewed: at one end are small opportunities with speculative upsides and almost guaranteed but limited downsides; at the other end are the Crossrails, HS2, Hinkley Point C, Sizewell C, and other humungous vanity projects. The other big stuff, like developing the Dreamliner or Windows 10, is financed by companies, which may simply not need external finance (Apple, Microsoft) or will borrow it against their balance sheet rather than the future profits of a project.

Nope. Looking like the mattress is a good bet.

Central banks have to lie about why they are charging negative interest rates. The real reason is that there’s no way for them to make even a small return on the money other banks deposit with them, because the returns on government debt are so low. They can’t say that, because then the central bank would be admitting that the economy is screwed. So they mutter about using negative interest rates to encourage spending and lending - and that, of course, amounts to saying that there isn’t enough spending and lending going on, because there isn’t anything worth spending on or lending to, and that amounts to saying that the economy is screwed.

Commerzbank are posturing, of course, though they may also be looking at the costs of strongrooms.

Of course, if Commerzbank was going to store money of that amount in deposit boxes, it would need 500 euro notes to do it. Which the ECB wants to get rid of. I say the Bank of England should issue a £500 and even a £1,000 note for exactly these purposes. The Big Four banks in London should build a currency storage facility somewhere in the City. With £1,000 notes, it wouldn’t need to very large. The flight of capital to sterling would be exactly what it needed post-Brexit.

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