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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

Visualizing Historical Oil Prices (1968-2022)

The real price of oil reached a seven year high amid the Russia-Ukraine war. How have other major events impacted historical oil prices?

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Historical Oil Prices (1968-2022)

Amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the inflation-adjusted price of oil reached a seven-year high. Russia is one of the world’s largest producers of crude oil, and many countries have announced a ban on Russian oil imports amid the war. This has led to supply uncertainties and, therefore, rising prices.

How does the price increase compare to previous political and economic events? In this Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments, we look at historical oil prices since 1968.

The Fundamentals Behind Oil Prices

Before diving into the data, it’s worth explaining why historical oil prices have seen so much volatility. This mainly stems from the fact that the supply and demand of oil tends to have a low responsiveness to price changes in the short term.

  • On the supply side, oil production capacity can be challenging to change quickly. Drilling a new oil well is a lengthy and complex process.
    • On the demand side, it can be quite difficult to change equipment that uses petroleum products. For instance, in the short term, people will keep driving their cars to work despite higher gas prices.

    For these reasons, in order to re-balance supply and demand, it takes a sufficiently large price change to occur. For example, if gas prices were to double, only then may enough commuters consider taking public transit or changing behavior in other ways.

    What kind of events can shock the system enough to drive big price changes?

    A large portion of the world’s oil is located in regions that are prone to political conflict. Political events can disrupt the actual or perceived supply of oil, and drive prices upwards. On the other hand, an economic downturn reduces energy demand and can depress prices.

    Looking Back at Historical Oil Prices

    To compare how events have influenced historical oil prices, we used data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It should be noted that the data extends to March 31, 2022, and does not reflect the recent price dips in response to Shanghai lockdowns and U.S. rate hikes.

    Here is the inflation-adjusted price of a barrel of crude oil during select events.

    DateEventCrude Oil Price per Barrel
    Real 2010 Dollars
    Q1 1971U.S. spare capacity exhausted$13.47
    Q1 1973Arab Oil Embargo$15.90
    Q1 1974Embargo lifted$42.00
    Q1 1978Iranian Revolution$39.65
    Q3 1980Official start of Iran-Iraq war$76.93
    Q1 1986Saudis abandon swing producer role$32.90
    Q2 1990Trough price prior to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait$26.72
    Q3 1990Iraq invades Kuwait$39.37
    Q4 1990Peak price during invasion$47.15
    Q2 1991Iraq accepts UN resolution to end conflict$30.18
    Q4 1996Peak price prior to Asian financial crisis$31.88
    Q3 1997Asian financial crisis begins$25.35
    Q1 1999OPEC cuts production target by 1.7M b/d$16.41
    Q4 2000Peak price prior to 9/11$38.73
    Q3 20019/11 attacks$31.76
    Q4 2001Trough price after 9/11$24.22
    Q1 2005Low spare capacity$54.71
    Q2 2008Peak price before global financial collapse$125.21
    Q1 2009OPEC cuts production targets by 4.2M b/d$42.89
    Q2 2014Peak price prior to supply gut price collapse$95.07
    Q1 2015OPEC production quota unchanged despite low prices$44.41
    Q4 2019Price immediately prior to global pandemic$50.38
    Q1 2020COVID-19 declared a pandemic$40.34
    Q2 2020Trough price during global pandemic$24.65
    Q1 2022Russia invades Ukraine$77.94

    From the first quarter of 1968 until the second quarter of 1986, data reflects the reporter refiner acquisition cost. From the third quarter of 1986 to the first quarter of 2022, data reflects the West Texas Intermediate cost.

    In 1973, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced an embargo (ban) on oil exports to the United States. The move was in response to the U.S. providing military aid to Israel. By the time the embargo ended in March 1974, the inflation-adjusted price of crude oil had risen 164%. The embargo also led to a selloff in the stock market, with the recovery taking almost six years.

    Historical oil prices rose rapidly from 2004-2008. During that time, economic growth was fueling oil demand but there was little spare production capacity. By the second quarter of 2008, inflation-adjusted oil prices hit a high of $125 per barrel. They crashed by 66% shortly thereafter due to the global financial crisis.

    Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic and associated containment measures caused historical oil prices to drop by nearly 40% in three months. Oil prices have since risen 216% from their pandemic low, as of the first quarter of 2022. This is due to the economic recovery and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

    Oil as an Investment

    Investors’ interest in oil as an alternative investment has risen in recent years. Given the high volatility in historical oil prices, investors may want to consider their comfort with this level of risk. Of course, an investor’s sustainability goals may also be a factor when choosing whether to invest in oil.

    However, oil also presents opportunities. It has had low-to-negative correlation with U.S. bonds in recent years and may help investors diversify their portfolios. Not only that, it may help investors manage rising interest rates. An economic recovery typically leads to rising interest rates, but also more energy demand. Oil prices have historically climbed during these periods.

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Markets in a Minute

Mapped: Interest Rates by Country in 2022

For the vast majority of countries, interest rates are marching upward. Here’s how they break down in 2022.

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Interest Rates

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Mapped: Interest Rates by Country

Soaring inflation, the war in Ukraine, and strengthening economies are spurring interest rate increases around the world. At the same time, central banks are unwinding record monetary stimulus from COVID-19.

In this Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments, we show interest rates by country in 2022. Interest rates are based on short-term benchmark policy rates set out by central banks.

Interest Rates Around the World in 2022

While the vast majority of countries saw a decline in interest rates over recent years, this trend is reversing for many in 2022.

After hovering at 0.0%, the U.S. increased its short-term interest rate to 0.5%. Experts project up to seven interest rate hikes this year, with interest rates rising as high as 1.9% by year-end.

For many countries in Europe, interest rates climbed out of negative territory for the first time since 2014. Interest rates now sit at 0.0% across the European Union.

Country/ Region
Short-Term Interest Rate (%)
🇦🇱 Albania1.0
🇦🇲 Armenia9.3
🇦🇺 Australia 0.1
🇦🇹 Austria0.0
🇦🇿 Azerbaijan7.8
🇧🇸 Bahamas4.0
🇧🇩 Bangladesh4.8
🇧🇧 Barbados2.0
🇧🇾 Belarus12.0
🇧🇪 Belgium0.0
🇧🇿 Belize2.3
🇧🇴 Bolivia 3.9
🇧🇼 Botswana3.8
🇧🇷 Brazil11.8
🇨🇦 Canada0.5
🇹🇩 Chad3.5
🇨🇱 Chile7.0
🇨🇳 China3.7
🇨🇴 Colombia5.0
🇨🇬 Congo7.5
🇨🇷 Costa Rica2.5
🇨🇺 Cuba2.3
🇨🇿 Czech Republic5.0
🇩🇰 Denmark-0.6
🇩🇴 Dominican Republic5.5
🇪🇨 Ecuador7.2
🇪🇬 Egypt9.3
🇫🇯 Fiji0.3
🇫🇮 Finland0.0
🇫🇷 France0.0
🇬🇪 Georgia11.0
🇩🇪 Germany0.0
🇬🇷 Greece0.0
🇬🇾 Guyana5.0
🇭🇰 Hong Kong0.8
🇭🇺 Hungary4.4
🇮🇸 Iceland2.8
🇮🇳 India4.0
🇮🇩 Indonesia3.5
🇮🇪 Ireland0.0
🇮🇱 Israel0.1
🇮🇹 Italy0.0
🇯🇲 Jamaica4.5
🇯🇵 Japan-0.1
🇯🇴 Jordan2.8
🇰🇿 Kazakhstan13.5
🇰🇪 Kenya7.0
🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan10.0
🇱🇦 Laos3.0
🇱🇻 Latvia0.0
🇱🇧 Lebanon7.8
🇱🇸 Lesotho4.0
🇱🇾 Libya3.0
🇱🇹 Lithuania0.0
🇱🇺 Luxembourg0.0
🇲🇾 Malaysia1.8
🇲🇻 Maldives7.0
🇲🇱 Mali4.0
🇲🇽 Mexico6.5
🇲🇳 Mongolia9.0
🇲🇦 Morocco1.5
🇳🇵 Nepal7.0
🇳🇱 Netherlands0.0
🇳🇿 New Zealand1.0
🇳🇬 Nigeria11.5
🇳🇴 Norway0.8
🇵🇰 Pakistan12.3
🇵🇾 Paraguay6.3
🇵🇪 Peru4.5
🇵🇭 Philippines2.0
🇵🇱 Poland4.5
🇵🇹 Portugal0.0
🇶🇦 Qatar2.5
🇷🇴 Romania3.0
🇷🇼 Rwanda5.0
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia1.3
🇷🇸 Serbia1.5
🇸🇱 Sierra Leone14.3
🇸🇬 Singapore0.3
🇸🇰 Slovakia0.0
🇿🇦 South Africa4.3
🇰🇷 South Korea1.3
🇸🇸 South Sudan12.0
🇪🇸 Spain0.0
🇱🇰 Sri Lanka13.5
🇸🇿 Swaziland4.0
🇸🇪 Sweden0.0
🇨🇭 Switzerland-0.8
🇹🇼 Taiwan1.4
🇹🇭 Thailand0.5
🇹🇳 Tunisia6.3
🇹🇷 Turkey14.0
🇺🇬 Uganda6.5
🇺🇦 Ukraine10.0
🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates1.8
🇬🇧 United Kingdom0.8
🇺🇸 United States0.5
🇻🇳 Vietnam4.0
🇿🇲 Zambia9.0

*Australia, China, India, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Serbia, Romania data as of April 2022.
Reflects data for March or February 2022 depending on latest available data.
Source: Trading Economics (Apr 2022)

In Latin America, several central banks are taking a hawkish stance as oil price shocks are causing inflation to accelerate.

Mexico raised its benchmark interest rate to 6.5% in March in response to inflation hitting 20-year highs. Even before the war in Ukraine, global factors such as rising oil and import prices were already having a greater impact on Latin American countries than advanced economies.

Unlike the U.S. and most countries located in Europe and Latin America, China is anticipated to potentially lower its interest rates.

A renewed COVID-19 wave has slowed growth, with the government requiring countless factories to close in order to combat the spread of the Omicron variant. Disruptions have cascaded across supply chains—from electric vehicles to iPhones— leaving goods in shorter supply. China is responsible for roughly one-third of global manufacturing.

High-Water Mark

Which countries have the highest interest rates in 2022?

Interest Rates

At an eye-watering 80%, Zimbabwe has the highest interest rate of any country.

In early April, the central bank raised rates by 20 percentage points to combat a 73% inflation rate. Small businesses, teachers, and analysts have been urging the government to adopt the U.S. dollar to boost economic and investor confidence amid currency woes.

With an interest rate of 44.5%, Argentina has the second-highest rate. To get closer to reaching the requirements for rescheduling its $40 billion loan to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the central bank raised interest rates for the second time this year. The IMF requires having interest rates above the rate of inflation. As of February, Argentina’s inflation exceeded 50%.

Meanwhile, oil-rich countries such as Angola (20%), Iran (18%), and Russia (17%) all made it into the top 10 for highest rates globally.

Treading Water

What is the outlook for interest rates in 2022 and beyond?

In the short term, experts believe interest rates will likely rise to fight inflation. They could also play a role in slower economic growth, especially if raised too quickly. Recently, the World Bank revised global growth to 3.2% due to the war in Ukraine and rising food and energy prices—about a percentage point lower than its previous forecast of 4.1%.

The longer-term view may look different.

Structural factors, such as an aging population, will likely lead to an increase in savings rates for retirement. In theory, higher savings rates increases the total supply of funds, depressing the interest rate. By 2100, people over 50 are projected to rise from 25% to 40% of the global population.

The end of ultra-low interest rates may be over for now, but broader factors, including growing global debt—which stands at 355% of the world’s GDP—suggests it may be a short to medium-term adjustment.

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