An error occured. Details Hide
You have unsaved pages. Restore Cancel

Deterioration in the real interest rate of an economy can lead to an economic downturn. In essence, if inflation rates exceed the interest rates on lending, the profitability of commercial banks is eroded and lending to businesses and individuals dries up. As a result, the production and consumption of goods and services by these would-be borrowers falters.

  • Most economies at some point experience negative real interest rates. During the 2014-2015 period, Argentina, Japan, Mexico, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela, among other economies, experienced negative real interest rates, meaning that the inflation rate exceeded the lending interest rate.
  • Last July, US real interest rates on the 10-year Treasury bills fell below zero for the first time since 2012. For the economy more broadly, as is the case now, the United States experienced a period of relatively low real interest rates during the 1970s, with a single one-year period - 1975 - falling into negative territory (-1.28 percent).

To complicate matters, the reasons for and repercussions to an economy of low or negative real interest rate depends on a myriad of other factors, including an economy's size and demographic profile, capacity and maturity of its banking system and related financial institutions, demand for safe assets, and other factors. The duration of the low or negative interest rates also affects policy decisions to guard against other economic consequences.

  • A low real interest rate can signal that a country is a low credit risk and has a relatively stable economy, helping to boost economic growth to prevent recession or aid economic recovery. Maintained at a low rate over several years, however, with no return to stronger economic growth will probably trigger other policy responses to address the consequences of low rates throughout an economy including on the health of the banking sector and wealth distribution between economic classes.
  • Negative interest rates, while less optimal, pose a greater threat when nominal lending interest rates are also low, as observed at various points in history in Japan, the United Kingdom, and a handful of other advanced countries.
  • Even more economically disruptive are scenarios in which the negative real interest rate is coupled with high interest rates on lending, such as in Argentina, Brazil, Ukraine, and Venezuela. This scenario is more common among developing economies in which banks dominate the financial system.

Related Data Insights

United States: Moving Toward Economic Recession in 2019?

One could argue that in a world subject to the inevitability of business cycles, the United States is overdue for a recession. During the 60 year period from 1950 to 2010, the US economy experienced 10 recessions, averaging one recession every six years. In contrast, the longest period of uninterrupted economic growth was just shy of 10 years. The US is now in the midst of nine years of economic growth with the last "Great Recession" a fading memory for some. Will 2019 bring recession to the US?With the potential exceptions of asset prices and the yield curve—now at its lowest level since the last recession—standard...

The World's Largest Economy: China or the United States?

Which is the world's largest economy, China or the United States? As is usual in the field of economics, “It depends.” It depends on the methods used to estimate the size of an economy and to compare one economy to another. Despite modern discussions on refining the calculation of gross domestic product (GDP), the standard measure of an economy’s size and performance, to be more inclusive of economic factors that have been ignored to date, such as environmental and natural resource depletion, there is no commonly accepted alternative to GDP. There are, however, at least two commonly used approaches to cross-country...

The Shadow Economy in Europe and OECD Countries in 2003-2015

The $9.7 trillion global shadow economy is the second largest economy in the world after the United States, according to the 2010 estimates of the black market for 162 countries. Still, as for the more recent study, the size of the underground economy in European and other OECD countries have been decreasing steadily since 2009 and continued shrinking in 2015 averaging to 16.7 percent of official GDP. But this development was not uniform across individual countries: 10 out of 36 OECD countries experienced an increase in the black market size in 2015. The most significant upsurge of the unreported share of economic...

The History of the Economic Forecasts

Each year several influential global agencies publish their views on the economic situation in the world. We have collected end-of-year baseline forecasts of the 5 largest agencies (IMF, World Bank, OECD, UN and the European Commission) for each available country since 1998 into the one dataset. In this page, you can observe forecasts for 2014-2017, which were made by each of those agencies in previous years, and analyze the accuracy of the forecasts from the historical perspective. It is hard to believe, but the data clearly shows that even the near-term forecasts were not considerably better than the simplest possible...