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Why are real interest rates so low? Secular stagnation and the relative price of investment goods

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  • Thwaites, Gregory

    () (Bank of England)

Abstract

Over the past four decades, real interest rates have risen then fallen across the industrialised world. Over the same period, nominal investment rates fell, while house prices and household debt ratios rose. I explain these four trends with a fifth — the widespread fall in the relative price of investment goods. I present a simple closed-economy OLG model in which households finance retirement in part by selling claims on the corporate sector accumulated over their working lives. With lower capital goods prices, a given quantity of saving buys more capital goods, but the increase in the real capital-output ratio lowers the marginal product. This has ambiguous effects on interest rates in the long run: if capital and labour are complements, in line with most estimates in the literature, interest rates remain low even if the relative price of capital stabilises. Lower interest rates reduce the user cost of housing, raise house prices and, given that housing is bought early in life, increase household debt. Housing is another vehicle for retirement saving, so omitting housing from the model exacerbates the fall in interest rates. I extend the model to allow for bequests and a heterogeneous bequest motive, and show that wealth inequality rises but consumption inequality falls when capital goods prices fall. Adding a third factor of production can reconcile the recent fall in the investment rate with the fall in the labour share. I test the model on cross-country data and find support for its assumptions and predictions. The analysis in this paper shows recent debates on macroeconomic imbalances and household and government indebtedness in a new light. In particular, low real interest rates may be the new normal. The debt of the young provides an alternative outlet for the retirement savings of the old; preventing the accumulation of debt, for example through macroprudential policy, leads to a bigger fall in interest rates.

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  • Thwaites, Gregory, 2015. "Why are real interest rates so low? Secular stagnation and the relative price of investment goods," Bank of England working papers 564, Bank of England.
  • Handle: RePEc:boe:boeewp:0564
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Rana Sajedi & Gregory Thwaites, 2016. "Why Are Real Interest Rates So Low? The Role of the Relative Price of Investment Goods," IMF Economic Review, Palgrave Macmillan;International Monetary Fund, vol. 64(4), pages 635-659, November.
    2. Alexius, Annika, 2017. "Why are real interest rates so low? Evidence from a structural VAR with sign restrictions," Research Papers in Economics 2017:6, Stockholm University, Department of Economics.
    3. Gauti B. Eggertsson & Neil R. Mehrotra & Jacob A. Robbins, 2017. "A Model of Secular Stagnation: Theory and Quantitative Evaluation," NBER Working Papers 23093, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Sergio de Ferra, 2017. "External Imbalances, Gross Capital Flows and Sovereign Debt Crises," 2017 Meeting Papers 726, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    5. Harashima, Taiji, 2018. "Why Are Inflation and Real Interest Rates So Low? A Mechanism of Low and Floating Real Interest and Inflation Rates," MPRA Paper 84311, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Spahn, Peter, 2016. "Population growth, saving, interest rates and stagnation: Discussing the Eggertsson-Mehrotra model," Hohenheim Discussion Papers in Business, Economics and Social Sciences 04-2016, University of Hohenheim, Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences.
    7. Stefano Neri & Andrea Gerali, 2017. "Natural rates across the Atlantic," Temi di discussione (Economic working papers) 1140, Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area.
    8. Robin Döttling & Enrico Perotti, 2015. "Mortgage Finance and Technological Change," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 15-079/IV, Tinbergen Institute.
    9. MIYAGAWA Tsutomu & TAKIZAWA Miho & TONOGI Konomi, 2016. "Declining Rate of Return on Capital and the Role of Intangibles in Japan," Discussion papers 16051, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI).
    10. Barslund, Mikkel & Ludolph, Lars, 2017. "Could the decrease in Belgian government debt-servicing costs offset increased age-related expenditure?," CEPS Papers 12598, Centre for European Policy Studies.
    11. Darius Kulikauskas, 2015. "Measuring fundamental housing prices in the Baltic States: empirical approach," ERES eres2015_31, European Real Estate Society (ERES).
    12. Guido Baldi & Patrick Harms, 2017. "The Natural Rate of Interest and Secular Stagnation," DIW Roundup: Politik im Fokus 110, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Real interest rates; relative price of capital; overlapping generations; secular stagnation;

    JEL classification:

    • E13 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General Aggregative Models - - - Neoclassical
    • E22 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Investment; Capital; Intangible Capital; Capacity
    • E43 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Money and Interest Rates - - - Interest Rates: Determination, Term Structure, and Effects
    • E60 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - General

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