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Chart: Interest Rates Fall Decades After Pandemics

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Real Interest Rates After Pandemics

Real Interest Rates

This infographic is available as a poster.

Chart: Interest Rates Fall Decades After Pandemics

How have interest rates responded to pandemics?

Despite higher interest rates on the horizon, historical data shows that real interest rates fall decades after pandemics end. Real interest rates were shown to decline as much as 1.5% lower, even after an initial rise.

In this Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments, we show how pandemics have impacted real interest rates across 19 pandemics since the 14th century.

Pandemics and Real Interest Rates

According to a working paper from the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, pandemics have lasting effects on real interest rates.

Real rates were defined as the level of returns on safe assets issued from global financial powers.

Specifically, interest rates were constructed by weighting real interest rates on long-term debt by each country’s share of GDP. Data was collected over seven centuries for pandemics with over 100,000 deaths across Europe due to available historical records.

To study how interest rates respond to major economic events over the long run, pandemics were compared to wars.

Changes in Real Rate0 Years10 Years20 Years30 Years40 Years
Pandemics-0.1%-0.6%-1.3%-1.0%-0.7%
Wars-0.1%0.3%0.8%0.8%0.5%

Based on their research, interest rates fell slightly after pandemics, but this effect increased over time. What’s more, four decades after pandemics ended, real interest remained lower than pre-pandemic levels. By contrast, interest rates increased after wars, hitting the highest point two to three decades out.

What factors may have impacted a depression in real rates after pandemics?

An abundance of capital per unit of labor was one possible factor. Higher levels of precautionary savings was another, which may be a result of rebuilding lost wealth during the pandemic. According to economic theory, increased savings and a slowing population can lead real interest rates to decline.

In other words, when there is excess capital and people are saving money, there is less demand for credit. This decreased demand, in turn, may lead to lower interest rates.

By contrast, capital is destroyed during wars, which may have caused an upward pressure on rates in the past.

Pandemics vs. Recession Savings

How do savings during pandemics compare to recessions? In April 2020, personal savings rates skyrocketed to over 33%—the highest ever recorded.

In the table below, we show the peak savings rate during the pandemic, and compare it to different recessions.

DatePeak Savings Rate
Apr 202033.8%
May 20097.9%
Sep 20017.0%
Jan 19919.3%
Nov 198113.2%
Jul 198011.2%
Dec 197314.8%
Jul 197013.5%
Jan 196111.1%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (Jan 2022)

At one point, savings rates during the COVID-19 pandemic were double or triple the rate of past recessions. The average U.S. personal savings rate over the last 60 years is around 9%.

Rise in Real Wages

Like interest rates, real wages showed a meaningful response to pandemics. As labor scarcity increased, real wages rose higher. Overall, pandemics corresponded with a rise in real wages that lasted for decades. For wars, real wages decreased persistently for years.

During the Black Death, for instance, a 25-40% decline in the labor supply corresponded with a 100% rise in real wages.

Changes in Real Wages in Great Britain0 Years10 Years20 Years30 Years40 Years
Pandemics0.5%3.6%8.0%10.2%11.8%
Wars-0.2%-1.3%-2.2%-2.2%0.1%

It’s worth noting that the study was released in June 2020, long before current wage rises began to appear.

Productivity Increases

Pandemics have also positively impacted productivity. While real GDP per capita rose 8.6% four decades after pandemics, for wars, productivity increased just 1.4%.

Changes in Real GDP per Capita in Great Britain0 Years10 Years20 Years30 Years40 Years
Pandemics0.1%1.7%4.6%4.3%8.6%
Wars0.1%-1.0%-0.7%0.5%1.4%

Why did productivity improve? As the number of workers declined, capital per worker increased, raising labor productivity. In other words, there was more capital available for the remaining workers, boosting productivity.

By contrast, wars have hurt productivity due to the destruction of physical capital such as public infrastructure.

What if COVID-19 Is Different?

Two caveats may impact how real interest rates respond to the current pandemic, according to the research.

In the past, pandemics created a significant dent in the labor force. COVID-19, in comparison, has a greater impact on an elderly demographic in terms of deaths, who are less likely to be in the workforce. As a result, the decrease in capital to labor could depress interest rates to a lesser degree.

Secondly, the fiscal response to COVID-19 is much larger than past pandemics. A major fiscal response could lead to higher debt levels, which in turn could push real interest rates higher. As the central bank prints more money, this could lead to inflation, which causes bonds to be worth less. In turn, investors begin selling bonds and yields rise.

World War II: A Modern Day Case Study

However, there is a case to be made for lower rates for longer.

In the aftermath of World War II, the Federal Reserve sustained low borrowing costs in spite of a soaring economy and high inflation. The central bank kept long-term Treasury yields at 2.5% after the war to stabilize markets and keep government debt financing low. Even amid high debt levels, the debt-to-GDP ratio declined without causing damaging effects on the economy.

Overall, if history repeats itself, there could be a low interest rate environment for a significant period of time, with sustained effects on real wages and productivity.

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Markets in a Minute

Mapped: GDP Growth Forecasts by Country, in 2023

The global economy faces an uncertain future in 2023. This year, GDP growth is projected to be 2.9%—down from 3.2% in 2022.

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GDP Growth

Mapped: GDP Growth Forecasts by Country, in 2023

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine early last year, talk of global recession has dominated the outlook for 2023.

High inflation, spurred by rising energy costs, has tested GDP growth. Tightening monetary policy in the U.S., with interest rates jumping from roughly 0% to over 4% in 2022, has historically preceded a downturn about one to two years later.

For European economies, energy prices are critical. The good news is that prices have fallen recently since March highs, but the continent remains on shaky ground.

The map shows GDP growth forecasts by country for the year ahead, based on projections from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) October 2022 Outlook and January 2023 update.

2023 GDP Growth Outlook

The world economy is projected to see just 2.9% GDP growth in 2023, down from 3.2% projected for 2022.

This is a 0.2% increase since the October 2022 Outlook thanks in part to China’s reopening, higher global demand, and slowing inflation projected across certain countries in the year ahead.

With this in mind, we show GDP growth forecasts for 191 jurisdictions given multiple economic headwinds—and a few emerging bright spots in 2023.

Country / Region2023 Real GDP % Change (Projected)2022 Real GDP % Change (Projected)
🇦🇱 Albania2.5%4.0%
🇩🇿 Algeria2.6%4.7%
🇦🇴 Angola3.4%2.9%
🇦🇬 Antigua and Barbuda5.6%6.0%
🇦🇷 Argentina*2.0%4.0%
🇦🇲 Armenia3.5%7.0%
🇦🇼 Aruba2.0%4.0%
🇦🇺 Australia*1.6%3.8%
🇦🇹 Austria1.0%4.7%
🇦🇿 Azerbaijan2.5%3.7%
🇧🇭 Bahrain3.0%3.4%
🇧🇩 Bangladesh6.0%7.2%
🇧🇧 Barbados5.0%10.5%
🇧🇾 Belarus0.2%-7.0%
🇧🇪 Belgium0.4%2.4%
🇧🇿 Belize2.0%3.5%
🇧🇯 Benin6.2%5.7%
🇧🇹 Bhutan4.3%4.0%
🇧🇴 Bolivia3.2%3.8%
🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina2.0%2.4%
🇧🇼 Botswana4.0%4.1%
🇧🇷 Brazil*1.2%2.8%
🇧🇳 Brunei Darussalam3.3%1.2%
🇧🇬 Bulgaria3.0%2.9%
🇧🇫 Burkina Faso4.8%3.6%
🇧🇮 Burundi4.1%3.3%
🇨🇻 Cabo Verde4.8%4.0%
🇨🇲 Cameroon4.6%3.8%
🇰🇭 Cambodia6.2%5.1%
🇨🇦 Canada*1.5%3.3%
🇨🇫 Central African Republic3.0%1.5%
🇹🇩 Chad3.4%3.3%
🇨🇱 Chile-1.0%2.0%
🇨🇳 China*5.3%3.2%
🇨🇴 Colombia2.2%7.6%
🇰🇲 Comoros3.4%3.0%
🇨🇷 Costa Rica2.9%3.8%
🇨🇮 Côte d'Ivoire6.5%5.5%
🇭🇷 Croatia3.5%5.9%
🇨🇾 Cyprus2.5%3.5%
🇨🇿 Czech Republic1.5%1.9%
🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of the Congo6.7%6.1%
🇩🇰 Denmark0.6%2.6%
🇩🇯 Djibouti5.0%3.6%
🇩🇲 Dominica4.9%6.0%
🇩🇴 Dominican Republic4.5%5.3%
🇪🇨 Ecuador2.7%2.9%
🇪🇬 Egypt*4.0%6.6%
🇸🇻 El Salvador1.7%2.6%
🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea-3.1%5.8%
🇪🇷 Eritrea2.9%2.6%
🇪🇪 Estonia1.8%1.0%
🇸🇿 Eswatini1.8%2.4%
🇪🇹 Ethiopia5.3%3.8%
🇫🇯 Fiji6.9%12.5%
🇫🇮 Finland0.5%2.1%
🇫🇷 France*0.7%2.5%
🇲🇰 North Macedonia3.0%
🇬🇦 Gabon3.7%2.7%
🇬🇪 Georgia4.0%9.0%
🇩🇪 Germany*0.1%1.5%
🇬🇭 Ghana2.8%3.6%
🇬🇷 Greece1.8%5.2%
🇬🇩 Grenada3.6%3.6%
🇬🇹 Guatemala3.2%3.4%
🇬🇳 Guinea5.1%4.6%
🇬🇼 Guinea-Bissau4.5%3.8%
🇬🇾 Guyana25.2%57.8%
🇭🇹 Haiti0.5%-1.2%
🇭🇳 Honduras3.5%3.4%
🇭🇰 Hong Kong SAR3.9%-0.8%
🇭🇺 Hungary1.8%5.7%
🇮🇸 Iceland2.9%5.1%
🇮🇳 India*6.1%6.8%
🇮🇩 Indonesia*4.8%5.3%
🇮🇶 Iraq4.0%9.3%
🇮🇪 Ireland4.0%9.0%
🇮🇷 Iran*2.0%3.0%
🇮🇱 Israel3.0%6.1%
🇮🇹 Italy*0.6%3.2%
🇯🇲 Jamaica3.0%2.8%
🇯🇵 Japan*1.8%1.7%
🇯🇴 Jordan2.7%2.4%
🇰🇿 Kazakhstan*4.3%2.5%
🇰🇪 Kenya5.1%5.3%
🇰🇮 Kiribati2.4%1.0%
🇰🇷 South Korea*1.7%2.6%
🇽🇰 Kosovo3.5%2.7%
🇰🇼 Kuwait2.6%8.7%
🇰🇬 Kyrgyz Republic3.2%3.8%
🇱🇦 Lao P.D.R.3.1%2.2%
🇱🇻 Latvia1.6%2.5%
🇱🇸 Lesotho1.6%2.1%
🇱🇷 Liberia4.2%3.7%
🇱🇾 Libya17.9%-18.4%
🇱🇹 Lithuania1.1%1.8%
🇱🇺 Luxembourg1.1%1.6%
🇲🇴 Macao SAR56.7%-22.4%
🇲🇬 Madagascar5.2%4.2%
🇲🇼 Malawi2.5%0.9%
🇲🇾 Malaysia*4.4%5.4%
🇲🇻 Maldives6.1%8.7%
🇲🇱 Mali5.3%2.5%
🇲🇹 Malta3.3%6.2%
🇲🇭 Marshall Islands3.2%1.5%
🇲🇷 Mauritania4.8%4.0%
🇲🇺 Mauritius5.4%6.1%
🇲🇽 Mexico*1.7%2.1%
🇫🇲 Micronesia2.9%-0.6%
🇲🇩 Moldova2.3%0.0%
🇲🇳 Mongolia5.0%2.5%
🇲🇪 Montenegro2.5%7.2%
🇲🇦 Morocco3.1%08%
🇲🇿 Mozambique4.9%3.7%
🇲🇲 Myanmar3.3%2.0%
🇳🇦 Namibia3.2%3.0%
🇳🇷 Nauru2.0%0.9%
🇳🇵 Nepal5.0%4.2%
🇳🇱 Netherlands*0.6%4.5%
🇳🇿 New Zealand1.9%2.3%
🇳🇮 Nicaragua3.0%4.0%
🇳🇪 Niger7.3%6.7%
🇳🇬 Nigeria*3.2%3.2%
🇳🇴 Norway2.6%3.6%
🇴🇲 Oman4.1%4.4%
🇵🇰 Pakistan*2.0%6.0%
🇵🇼 Palau12.3%-2.8%
🇵🇦 Panama4.0%7.5%
🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea5.1%3.8%
🇵🇾 Paraguay4.3%0.2%
🇵🇪 Peru2.6%2.7%
🇵🇭 Philippines*5.0%6.5%
🇵🇱 Poland*0.3%3.8%
🇵🇹 Portugal0.7%6.2%
🇵🇷 Puerto Rico0.4%4.8%
🇶🇦 Qatar2.4%3.4%
🇨🇬 Republic of Congo4.6%4.3%
🇷🇴 Romania3.1%4.8%
🇷🇺 Russia*0.3%-3.4%
🇷🇼 Rwanda6.7%6.0%
🇼🇸 Samoa4.0%-5.0%
🇸🇲 San Marino0.8%3.1%
🇸🇹 São Tomé and Príncipe2.6%1.4%
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia*2.6%7.6%
🇸🇳 Senegal8.1%4.7%
🇷🇸 Serbia2.7%3.5%
🇸🇨 Seychelles5.2%10.9%
🇸🇱 Sierra Leone3.3%2.4%
🇸🇬 Singapore2.3%3.0%
🇸🇰 Slovak Republic1.5%1.8%
🇸🇮 Slovenia1.7%5.7%
🇸🇧 Solomon Islands2.6%-4.5%
🇸🇴 Somalia3.1%1.9%
🇿🇦 South Africa*1.2%2.1%
🇸🇸 South Sudan5.6%6.5%
🇪🇸 Spain*1.1%4.3%
🇱🇰 Sri Lanka-3.0%-8.7%
🇰🇳 St. Kitts and Nevis4.8%9.8%
🇱🇨 St. Lucia5.8%9.1%
🇻🇨 St. Vincent and the Grenadines6.0%5.0%
🇸🇩 Sudan2.6%-0.3%
🇸🇷 Suriname2.3%1.3%
🇸🇪 Sweden-0.1%2.6%
🇨🇭 Switzerland0.8%2.2%
🇹🇼 Taiwan2.8%3.3%
🇹🇯 Tajikistan4.0%5.5%
🇹🇿 Tanzania5.2%4.5%
🇹🇭 Thailand*3.7%2.8%
🇧🇸 The Bahamas4.1%8.0%
🇬🇲 The Gambia6.0%5.0%
🇹🇱 Timor-Leste4.2%3.3%
🇹🇬 Togo6.2%5.4%
🇹🇴 Tonga2.9%-2.0%
🇹🇹 Trinidad and Tobago3.5%4.0%
🇹🇳 Tunisia1.6%2.2%
🇹🇷 Turkey*3.0%5.0%
🇹🇲 Turkmenistan2.3%1.2%
🇹🇻 Tuvalu3.5%3.0%
🇺🇬 Uganda5.9%4.4%
🇺🇦 UkraineN/A-35.0%
🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates4.2%5.1%
🇬🇧 United Kingdom*-0.6%3.6%
🇺🇲 U.S.*1.4%1.6%
🇺🇾 Uruguay3.6%5.3%
🇺🇿 Uzbekistan4.7%5.2%
🇻🇺 Vanuatu3.1%1.7%
🇻🇪 Venezuela6.5%6.0%
🇻🇳 Vietnam6.2%7.0%
West Bank and Gaza3.5%4.0%
🇾🇪 Yemen3.3%2.0%
🇿🇲 Zambia4.0%2.9%
🇿🇼 Zimbabwe2.8%3.0%

*Reflect updated figures from the January 2023 IMF Update.

The U.S. is forecast to see 1.4% GDP growth in 2023, up from 1.0% seen in the last October projection.

Still, signs of economic weakness can be seen in the growing wave of tech layoffs, foreshadowed as a white-collar or ‘Patagonia-vest’ recession. Last year, 88,000 tech jobs were cut and this trend has continued into 2023. Major financial firms have also followed suit. Still, unemployment remains fairly steadfast, at 3.5% as of December 2022. Going forward, concerns remain around inflation and the path of interest rate hikes, though both show signs of slowing.

Across Europe, the average projected GDP growth rate is 0.7% for 2023, a sharp decline from the 2.1% forecast for last year.

Both Germany and Italy are forecast to see slight growth, at 0.1% and 0.6%, respectively. Growth forecasts were revised upwards since the IMF’s October release. However, an ongoing energy crisis exposes the manufacturing sector to vulnerabilities, with potential spillover effects to consumers and businesses, and overall Euro Area growth.

China remains an open question. In 2023, growth is predicted to rise 5.2%, higher than many large economies. While its real estate sector has shown signs of weakness, the recent opening on January 8th, following 1,016 days of zero-Covid policy, could boost demand and economic activity.

A Long Way to Go

The IMF has stated that 2023 will feel like a recession for much of the global economy. But whether it is headed for a recovery or a sharper decline remains unknown.

Today, two factors propping up the global economy are lower-than-expected energy prices and resilient private sector balance sheets. European natural gas prices have sunk to levels seen before the war in Ukraine. During the height of energy shocks, firms showed a notable ability to withstand astronomical energy prices squeezing their finances. They are also sitting on significant cash reserves.

On the other hand, inflation is far from over. To counter this effect, many central banks will have to use measures to rein in prices. This may in turn have a dampening effect on economic growth and financial markets, with unknown consequences.

As economic data continues to be released over the year, there may be a divergence between consumer sentiment and whether things are actually changing in the economy. Where the economy is heading in 2023 will be anyone’s guess.

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Markets in a Minute

Chart: The State of U.S. Retirement Assets in 2022

U.S. retirement assets have faced challenging conditions amid market headwinds—but over the last decade these assets have nearly doubled.

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U.S. Retirement Assets in 2022

This infographic is available as a poster.

Chart: The State of U.S. Retirement Assets in 2022

Today, many people are questioning the effects of high inflation on their retirement assets.

This Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments charts the state of U.S. retirement assets to show how Americans are building their retirement savings, and where these assets are being drawn from.

U.S. Retirement Assets: Where it Stands Today

As of 2022, there was over $33 trillion being held in U.S. retirement assets.

For perspective, that’s about 31% of all household financial assets in America and nearly double the amount seen a decade ago. In the table below, we show how this breaks down by retirement asset type, using data from the Investment Company Institute:

Type of Retirement Asset2022*2012200219921982
IRAs$11.7T$5.8T$2.5T$872B$67B
DC Plans$9.3T$5.2T$2.6T$1.1T$264B
State and Local Government DB Plans$5.1T$3.2T$2.1T$958B$260B
Private-Sector DB Plans$3.2T$2.7T$1.7T$1.1T$479B
Federal DB Plans$2.2T$1.3T$800B$411B$99B
Annuities$2.2T$1.7T$899B$473B$180B
Total $33.7T$19.9T$10.5T$5.0T$1.3T

*As of Q2 2022.

As seen above, individual retirement accounts (IRAs) hold the most retirement assets, at 34% of the total. Since 2012, they have doubled, jumping from $5.8 trillion to $11.7 trillion in 2022.

Today, about 37% of Americans hold an IRA.

With $9.3 trillion in assets, defined contribution (DC) plans are the second-greatest source of savings. These type of plans have the employee make contributions that are automatically deducted from their paycheck. Here, employers have the option to make contributions. Like IRAs, they have grown considerably in the last 10 years.

Defined benefit (DB) plans, meanwhile, have declined in usage, especially in the private sector. In 1982, private-sector DB plans made up almost 40% of U.S. retirement assets. In 2022, they accounted for under 10% of these assets.

Overall, retirement assets have declined in 2022 due to weak market performance—after a record year in 2021 driven by higher contributions, a strong market, and other factors.

U.S. Financial Security in 2022

With these factors at play, how are Americans feeling about their financial security, and how is this impacting their retirement outlook?

In one Ipsos survey, just 56% of Americans surveyed said they felt good about their overall level of financial security.

When it comes to their long-term outlook, chief among concerns is inflation. Over half surveyed said that it will likely have a big impact on their ability to save for retirement and meet other long-term financial goals. Rising interest rates and medical costs are other areas of concern, with about one-third saying they will have a large impact on achieving these outcomes.

Meanwhile, 59% of Americans said they feel confident they have enough savings to enjoy a comfortable retirement. Of these, Baby Boomers feel most confident at 70%, while Gen Z (48%) feels least confident.

The good news is that inflation looks to have hit its peak in the summer of 2022. Still, reaching a 2-3% target may take a longer period of time. With this in mind, looking to investment strategies that include floating-rate bonds and real estate, infrastructure, and value equities may help insulate retirement assets from market fluctations and inflation.

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2023 Global Forecast by Visual Capitalist

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