Download publication

Policy Contribution

Low interest rates in Europe and the US: one trend, two stories

Interest rates have been on a long-term decline, associated with declining productivity growth. To tackle this, the priorities are to reduce market concentration and, in Europe, change the financing model.

By: and Date: March 10, 2021 Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance

We thank Lionel Guetta-Jeanrenaud for excellent research assistance and Faÿçal Hafied for drawing our attention to ESOPs. We are grateful to seminar participants at Bruegel for comments and suggestions. This research has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 822390.

In both Europe and the United States, interest rates have been declining for more than fifteen years. For much of this period, real interest rates have been negative and they are expected to remain negative for at least another decade. The literature associates this decline in interest rates with a similarly protracted decline in productivity. But the decline in productivity appears paradoxical given major technological advances.

The decline in the price of capital is underpinned by the factors that have caused a decline in demand for capital, as well as a relative increase in its supply. On the supply side, aging and an increase in overall macroeconomic risk since the financial crisis have both led to increased savings. On the demand side, the increase in the importance of intangible capital in production has reduced the demand for physical capital. 

Nevertheless, for the US, the literature has identified the increase in market concentration as the biggest factor responsible for the reduction in the overall demand for capital. Digital innovation has led to the creation of champion firms that have captured big market shares and have been able to prevent others from entering not only the US market, but markets globally. This has dampened investment. 

Europe is affected by US digital dominance, but other factors, including aging and increased risk, are more prominent in sustaining the downward pressure on interest rates. In particular, the lack of risk capital, in the context of capital markets, contributes to this downward pressure in the EU. As the knowledge economy relies increasingly on intangible capital, a bank-based system that requires collateral is not well suited to finance investments. A lack of suitable finance will remain an important factor in the downward pressure on interest rates.

The structural factors behind the downward pressure on interest rates imply that macroeconomic policy will have a reduced role in managing aggregate demand. Monetary policy in the euro area will be more about preventing financial fragmentation and less about stimulating demand. Equally, fiscal policy will have more of a supporting rather than stimulating role.

Tackling the structural decline in market dynamism and therefore in real rates will require structural policies to reduce market power globally and ensure the creation of capital markets in the EU. 

Recommended Citation

Demertzis, M. and N. Viegi (2021) ‘Low interest rates in Europe and the US: one trend, two stories’, Policy Contribution 07/2021, Bruegel

Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Podcast

Podcast

Low interest rates: a transatlantic phenomenon

Structural factors are putting downward pressure on rates: is it time for macroeconomic policy to play second fiddle in managing demand?

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: March 10, 2021
Read article Download PDF More on this topic
 

External Publication

Perspective of comprehensive and comprehensible multi-model energy and climate science in Europe

A comprehensive and comprehensible multi-model framework offers a real example of “collective” science diplomacy, as an instrument to further support the ambitious goals of the EU Green Deal, in compliance with the EU claim to responsible research.

By: Alexandros Nikas, Ajay Gambhir, Evelina Trutnevyte, Konstantinos Koasidis, Henrik Lund, Jakob Zinck Thellufsen, Didier Mayer, Georg Zachmann, Luis Javier Miguel, Noelia Ferreras Alonso, Ida Sognnæs, Glen Peters, Enzo Colombo, Mark Howells, Adam D. Hawkes, Machteld Van Den Broek, Dirk-Jan van de Ven, Mikel Gonzalez-Eguino, Alexandros Flamos and Haris Doukas Topic: Energy & Climate Date: November 5, 2020
Read about event
 

Past Event

Past Event

CANCELLED: How adequate is the European toolbox to deal with financial stability risks in a low rate environment?

Bruegel is delighted to welcome the governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, Gabriel Makhlouf. He will deliver a keynote address about how adequate the European toolbox is to tackle financial stability risks in a low rate environment. Following his speech, a panel of experts will further discuss the topic.

Speakers: Gabriel Makhlouf, Guntram B. Wolff and Agnès Bénassy-Quéré Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Finance & Financial Regulation Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: March 31, 2020
Read article Download PDF More on this topic
 

External Publication

Facing the lower bound: what will the ECB do in the next recession?

In responding to the global financial crisis, the ECB has pushed its monetary policy into unchartered territories . Today, it appears increasingly constrained by persistently low interest rates. This paper seeks to understand this challenge and assess whether its toolkit would allow the ECB to weather a European recession.

By: Aliénor Cameron, Grégory Claeys and Maria Demertzis Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: March 27, 2020
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

What next for the financial services industry? A conversation with Philippe Donnet, Group CEO of Generali

At this event the Group CEO of Generali, Philippe Donnet, will discuss the latest developments in the financial services industry with Guntram Wolff, Director of Bruegel. 

Speakers: Philippe Donnet and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: February 18, 2020
Read article Download PDF
 

Policy Contribution

European Parliament

From climate change to cyber attacks: Incipient financial-stability risks for the euro area

The European Central Bank’s November 2019 Financial Stability Review highlighted the risks to growth in an environment of global uncertainty. On the whole, the ECB report is comprehensive and covers the main risks to euro-area financial stability, we highlight issues that deserve more attention.

By: Zsolt Darvas, Marta Domínguez-Jiménez and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, European Parliament, Finance & Financial Regulation, Testimonies Date: February 6, 2020
Read article Download PDF More on this topic
 

Book/Special report

Megatrends: Key Forces Forging Our Future

A vision for Europe to prosper and best serve its citizens

By: Rebecca Christie and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: February 3, 2020
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

EU-Asia trade and investment connectivity

The Asia Europe Economic Forum (AEEF) was established in 2006 as a high level forum for in-depth research-based exchanges on global issues between Asian and European policy makers and experts. This year, the AEEF will be hosted by Bertelsmann Stiftung on 28-29 November, 2019 in Berlin, Germany, and it will focus on “EU-Asia trade and investment connectivity”.

Speakers: Aart de Geus, Guntram B. Wolff, He Fan, Alessia Amighini, John Beirne, Nicolaus Heinen, Jae-Young Lee, Cora Jungbluth, Alicia García-Herrero, Xin Yuan, Andreas Esche, Ken Wu, Sébastien Jean, Amb. Karsten Warnecke and Bruegel Topic: Global Economics & Governance Location: Bertelsmann Representative Office, Unter den Linden 1, 10117 Berlin Date: November 28, 2019
Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

Talking about Europe: La Stampa 1940s-2010s

An on-going research project at Bruegel seeks to quantify and analyse printed media discourses about Europe over the decades since the end of the Second World War. In this third blogpost, we carry out the exercise on 9.9 million articles from an Italian daily newspaper, La Stampa. The trend increase in the frequency of European related articles, previously found looking at the French and German press, is confirmed in the case of Italy.

By: Enrico Bergamini, Emmanuel Mourlon-Druol, Francesco Papadia and Giuseppe Porcaro Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: October 22, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

Long term real interest rates fell below zero in all euro area countries

The 10-year real government bond yield, which is the nominal yield deflated by expected inflation, has fallen below zero in Italy and Greece, boosted by increased market confidence for their new governments. Romania is the only remaining EU country with a positive real interest rate. Negative real interest rates vastly help fiscal sustainability and provide a great opportunity to invest in much needed infrastructure and the transition to a carbon-neutral economy.

By: Zsolt Darvas Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: October 8, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

Thomas Piketty's New Book: Impressive Research, Problematic Solutions

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century blended history, statistics, and theory. Capital and Ideology his new magnum opus, is long enough (1,200 pages) to lump together several books: a quantitative history of inequality through time and space, from medieval Europe and ancient India to present-day societies; a largely noneconomic theory of social stratification; an investigation into the social roots of current populism; and a political manifesto for the European left.

By: Jean Pisani-Ferry Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: October 3, 2019
Read article Download PDF More on this topic
 

Policy Contribution

The European Union-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement: Prospects and risks

After nearly 20 years of on-off negotiations, the European Union and Mercosur – a customs union covering Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – in June 2019 reached a political agreement on a trade deal. But to derive the full benefits from the EU-Mercosur agreement, major reforms will be needed.

By: Michael Baltensperger and Uri Dadush Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: September 24, 2019
Load more posts