Take New Zealand and Australia. Wednesday, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand slashed borrowing costs for the second time in six weeks even as housing prices continue to skyrocket. A day earlier, its counterpart across the Tasman Sea (already wrestling with an even bigger property bubble of its own) said a third cut this year is “on the table.”
Just one year ago, it seemed unthinkable that officials in Wellington and Sydney, more typically known for their hawkishness and stubborn independence, would join the global race toward zero. But with commodity prices sliding, China slowing and governments reluctant to adopt bold reforms, jittery markets are demanding ever-bigger gestures from central banks. Even those presiding over stable growth feel the need to placate hedge funds, lest asset markets falter. When this dynamic overtakes countries such as New Zealand (growing 2.6 percent) and Australia (2.3 percent), it’s hard not to conclude that ultralow rates will be the global norm for a long, long time.
Indeed, the major monetary powers that are easing — Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand — have all suggested rates may stay low almost indefinitely. Those angling to return to normalcy, meanwhile — the Federal Reserve and Bank of England — are pledging to move very slowly. Even nations with rising inflation problems, like India, are hinting at more stimulus.
“As interest rates continue to fall across most of the globe, central banks are also united in their main message: Once rates have come down, they’re likely to stay down,” says Simon Grose-Hodge of LGT Bank. “And when they finally do tighten, the ‘normal’ rate is going to be a lot lower than it used to be.”
Could the People’s Bank of China be next? “With underlying GDP growth still looking weak, more monetary policy moves are likely,” says Adam Slater of Oxford Economics. “And China may even face the prospect of short-term rates dropping towards the zero lower bound.”