What if I said I wanted to borrow $100 from you and pay you back $99 five years later? Would you do it?
And yet this is exactly what’s happening right now in the banking systems of Japan, Germany, France, and other European countries.
Negative interest rates — where the lender gets paid back less than they’ve loaned — now add up to 30%, (and counting), of the global tradable bond universe, according to JPMorgan (JPM). You may have seen for instance that Germany just sold the first negative yielding 30-year bond issue.
In case you’re wondering, yes, this is crazy.
“It’s really unusual and really distorting the global financial system,” says Torsten Slok, chief economist at Deutsche Bank Securities (DB). “I spend all my time talking about it.”
Negative rates are counterintuitive, unprecedented — and to my mind — mind-bendingly insane and downright scary. They are like a parallel universe where everything you’ve ever learned about finance and human behavior is turned upside down.
Worse, negative rates are being normalized by economists, bankers, and commentators.
Worst, I have a funny feeling this will end badly. Negative interest rates have all the hallmarks of serious trouble for the financial markets; an anomaly growing in scale which seemingly came out of nowhere that is under-recognized, poorly understood and dismissed as not consequential. (Flashing red lights here.)
In the U.S. we aren’t particularly aware of negative rates because they haven’t made their way to our shores ... perhaps yet.
Yes, the U.S. ten year Treasury yields 1.59%, not close to 0%, but negative rates seem to be creeping ever closer. For instance, negative interest rates haven’t come to U.S. corporate debt, but Euro-denominated bonds issued by...