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The Case of the Negative Nominal Interest Rates: New Estimates of the Term Structure of Interest Rates During the Great Depression

  • Stephen G. Cecchetti

During the 1930s and early 1940s U.S. Treasury bonds and notes had negative nominal yields as they approached maturity. But since an investor can always hold cash, this is impossible. Any bond must have a positive nominal yield. This paper poses a resolution to this puzzle: in addition to making coupon payments, Treasury securities were options that gave the owner the right to buy a new security on a future date. The paper proposes a method for valuing this 'exchange privilege' and computing the yield to the coupon bearing component of these composite bond/options. The case of the negative nominal interest rates demonstrates that the construction of accurate data requires close examination of the institutional environment, even when studying financial markets. The corrected bond and note yields are used to calculate new estimates of the term structure of interest rates from 1929 to 1949. These new data allow one to follow changes in the both the level and the shape of the yield curve during the Great Depression.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w2472.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 2472.

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Date of creation: Dec 1987
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Publication status: published as Cecchetti, Stephen G., "The Case of the Negative Nominal Interest Rates: New Estimates of the Term Structure of Interest Rates During the Great Depression," Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 96, No. 6, December 1988.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2472
Note: ME
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  1. Shea, Gary S, 1985. " Interest Rate Term Structure Estimation with Exponential Splines: A Note," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 40(1), pages 319-25, March.
  2. Bernanke, Ben S, 1983. "Nonmonetary Effects of the Financial Crisis in Propagation of the Great Depression," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(3), pages 257-76, June.
  3. Hamilton, James D., 1987. "Monetary factors in the great depression," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(2), pages 145-169, March.
  4. Cox, John C & Ingersoll, Jonathan E, Jr & Ross, Stephen A, 1985. "A Theory of the Term Structure of Interest Rates," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 53(2), pages 385-407, March.
  5. Brown, Stephen J & Dybvig, Philip H, 1986. " The Empirical Implications of the Cox, Ingersoll, Ross Theory of the Term Structure of Interest Rates," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 41(3), pages 617-30, July.
  6. N. Gregory Mankiw & Jeffrey A. Miron, 1985. "The Changing Behavior of the Term Structure of Interest Rates," NBER Working Papers 1669, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. McCulloch, J Huston, 1971. "Measuring the Term Structure of Interest Rates," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(1), pages 19-31, January.
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