Real Interest Rates over the Long Run

Kei-Mu Yi, Consultant

Jing Zhang

September 2016 | Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Economic Policy Paper 16-10

Long-term interest rates have a crucial influence on virtually all major financial decisions faced by households, businesses and governments. This paper reviews several decades of data on long-term rates internationally, explores several factors that determine them and discusses implications of this evidence.

The data indicate declining long-term rates since the 1980s, converging internationally at very low levels. This implies that the rate decline is not due to the Great Recession or to the early 2000s downturn. It further suggests a higher likelihood than before of hitting the zero bound on nominal interest rates as well as sustained rate convergence as global financial integration proceeds.

Furthermore, evidence of a downward trend in global fixed investment, coupled with the main finding of declining long-term interest rates, suggests that forces leading to declining global investment demand may be more important than those leading to increased saving in explaining current trends in long-term rates.