Ultra low interest rates have punished responsible savers

Morning View
Morning View

Interest rates have been super low in Britain, the eurozone and America since the financial crisis struck almost a decade ago.

There are good reasons why central banks have adopted such a policy, with the banking systems and whole economies put on life support for years on end.

The economic outlook has improved immeasurably since then, particularly in the UK and US. But the financial position is not yet back to normal and there are fears of a fresh crisis.

No-one wants to rush into interest rate rises and no-one wants to go back to the days of the 1980s and 90s when interest rates were in double digits.

But there is also a major problem with ultra low rates.

The global financial crisis was in large part a debt crisis.

The over indebtedness was in many forms: excessive government debt, company debt and individual debt (the latter often as a result of lenders who leant too much money to people who had poor credit worthiness and who lacked the capacity or in some cases even the understanding to repay).

The pursuit of ever higher property prices in many countries was at the heart of the problem and led to housing crashes on both sides of the Irish border and in much of America.

So while it has been important to have had a long period of low interest rates to prevent businesses going to the wall and huge numbers of homeowners from suffering the agony of repossession, it has also meant that there has been little motivation for people to cut their debts or amend their approach to borrowing.

The policy has had another very unfortunate side effect. The thrifty, particularly the elderly, have been severely punished in their savings. Money in the bank does not even now keep pace with inflation.

We have had many years of bailing out the profligate, and monetary policy must also bear in mind the reasonable expectation that responsible savers have of getting at least a modicum of return on their hard-earned capital.