ETF Securities Research Blog

Central Banks set priorities: jobs first, pensions later

200275059-001Last week, Larry Fink (BlackRock) and Bill Gross (Pimco) emphasised the threat that negative interest rates policies (NIRP) pose to pension and insurance companies business models. Fink and Gross opine that negative interest rates would crowd out savers’ money from fixed income to cash. The IMF reacted by saying that the portfolio balance channel will just reallocate savers money from safe to risky assets. In March, inflows toward European high yield bonds and emerging markets have been the largest on record, €3.2bn and $9.09bn respectively, according to JP Morgan. But, part of these inflows are likely attributable to a rebound of oil prices in March (WTI oil price rose 13.6%).

If NIRP eventually endangers the business model of pension and insurance companies, we believe central banks can adapt in a similar way that the European Central Bank (ECB) has done with regard to European banks. The announcement of a new series of targeted longer-term refinancing operations (TLTRO II) by the ECB in March 2016 is one example of how central banks can be reactive to the threats NIRP can pose. Prior to TLTRO II, NIRP threatened European banks’ business models. The interest rate on the ECB deposit facility has been negative since June 2014, which means that European banks have been paying interests on their excess reserves held at the ECB. This led to the erosion of their profitability as they have been reluctant to pass through negative rates onto clients deposits. Starting in June, the TLTRO II will allow banks to borrow from the ECB at the same interest rate as they pay on the deposit facility (-0.4% as of 10 March 2016). In other words, the ECB will return the negative rates paid on excess reserves as a discount on funding, as long as loans are extended.

In our view, central banks will not abandon the NIRP until macro data shows clear signs of improvement such as substantial labour market performance, along with significant and sustainable inflation pressure. Evidently central banks have learnt from their past mistakes and are being proactive by finding solutions to counter non-desirable effects. If the threat to pension and insurance companies’ business models materialises in the euro area, one solution would be to allow the purchase of their bonds in the new ECB corporate bonds programme in order to compensate them for their asset/liabilities mismatch.