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
 

Opinion

Relaunching transatlantic cooperation with a carbon border adjustment mechanism

The best way for the EU and the US to jointly introduce carbon border adjustment would be to form a ‘climate club’.

By: Simone Tagliapietra and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Energy & Climate, Global Economics & Governance Date: June 11, 2021
Read article More by this author
 

Podcast

Podcast

[LIVE] A transatlantic climate alliance

When Joe Biden visits Europe for the first time as US president, he should begin forging a transatlantic green deal.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Energy & Climate, Global Economics & Governance Date: June 11, 2021
Read article Download PDF More by this author
 

External Publication

European Parliament

What Are the Effects of the ECB’s Negative Interest Rate Policy?

This paper explores the potential effects (and side effects) of negative rates in theory and examines the evidence to determine what these effects have been in practice in the euro area.

By: Grégory Claeys Topic: European Parliament, Finance & Financial Regulation, Testimonies Date: June 9, 2021
Read article Download PDF More on this topic
 

Policy Contribution

Europe should not neglect its capital markets union

The European Union’s capital markets remain very underdeveloped compared to the United States. The market for equity, as measured as the size of the total market capitalisation of listed domestic firms relative to GDP, is much larger in the US and in Japan than in Europe.

By: Maria Demertzis, Marta Domínguez-Jiménez and Lionel Guetta-Jeanrenaud Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: June 7, 2021
Read article
 

Opinion

A transatlantic climate alliance

When Joe Biden visits Europe for the first time as US president, he should begin forging a transatlantic green deal.

By: Ana Palacio and Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Energy & Climate, Global Economics & Governance Date: June 4, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

Is Bidenomics more than catch-up?

The Biden administration's promises to 'think big' and rebuild the country seem like a major historical departure from decades of policy orthodoxy.

By: Jean Pisani-Ferry Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: June 3, 2021
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

After COVID-19: a most wanted recovery

This event, jointly organised with ISPI, as the National Coordinator and Chair of the T20 Italy, is part of the T20 Spring Roundtables and it will focus on strategies for a swift and sustainable economic recovery for Europe.

Speakers: Franco Bruni, Maria Demertzis, Elena Flores, Paul De Grauwe, Christian Odendahl, Miguel Otero-Iglesias and André Sapir Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: May 19, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Podcast

Podcast

Africa's battle with COVID-19

How can we ensure a worldwide balanced and inclusive recovery from the Covid pandemic?

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: April 21, 2021
Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

How has COVID-19 affected inflation measurement in the euro area?

COVID-19 has complicated inflation measurement. Policymakers need to take this into account and should look at alternative measures of inflation to understand what is actually happening in the economy.

By: Grégory Claeys and Lionel Guetta-Jeanrenaud Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: March 24, 2021
Read article
 

Blog Post

An update: Vaccination in the EU

Progress has been made, but more progress is needed.

By: J. Scott Marcus and Niclas Poitiers Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Innovation & Competition Policy Date: March 17, 2021
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 More on this topic More by this author
 

Podcast

Podcast

Can central banks save the planet?

“We are not going to lead our society to a low-carbon economy by continuing to finance the status quo. “

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Energy & Climate Date: February 24, 2021
Load more posts