I was looking through the traffic logs the other day and I noticed that our posts about real interest rates get quite a lot of traffic every day. So I thought it would be useful to set up an interactive, auto-updating real interest rate charts page so that you can always keep up-to-date with them. You can find the page here.


Any feedback / suggestions would be happily received as always (you can catch me on aftab@greshams-law.com).


Hope you find it useful.

 Real Interest Rates Charts Page Screenshot

Statistical games

Jun 28, 2014

It’s fair to say that among those of us buried deep in the paranoid depths of the alt-finance community, a certain suspicion exists when it comes to government economic statistics. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to claim that among the broader population, cynicism about such stats is also increasing. We have after all seen a senior policeman testify in parliament to the corruption of official crime stats, just as rigorous studies have shown grade inflation in school exam results. Why should economics be immune from this malign trend?
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If you measure the laxness of a central bank by the magnitude of its balance sheet expansion then there’s been a clear winner in recent years: the Bank of England (which has quadrupled its balance sheet since mid-2008). This leaves the UK at risk of a huge expansion in the broad money supply if the fractional reserve banking machine were to get going again. This, however, could be some time away and is not the only mechanism in play. Here we’ll look at central bank balance sheet expansions in relation to government accounts. By the end of this piece you’ll have a good understanding of how addicted various governments are to the printing press.

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Recently we looked at the critical chart in sovereign debt analysis which painted a broad picture of how vulnerable sovereigns are to rises in interest rates. Well, today we thought we’d show you a couple of charts that should be paired with it. By the end of this piece you’ll have a good idea of the average debt costs that would detonate the accounts of major governments around the world.

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Most people look at debt-to-GDP ratios when thinking about sovereign debt. It’s a good measure, but there’s a better one that goes for the jugular; the ratio of public debt to government revenue. By changing the denominator in this way you get a direct feel for how increases in interest rates affect government accounts. For example, when public debt is 10X government revenue then a 1% increase in the average interest rate paid on public debt forces the government to use an additional 10% of its revenues for paying interest. In short, this metric gives you a clear idea of just how easily a government could reach the keynesian endpoint (i.e. the point at which all of government revenues are used to pay interest alone).

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[EDIT: For up-to-date real interest rate charts see here.]
One of the most important themes over recent years has been the presence of negative real interest rates in the developed world. Whether one likes it or not, it has a big impact on how institutional money is allocated. Professional investors, who are under constant pressure from clients to make money, feel compelled to chase market momentum, especially when their clients’ money is slowly withering away because of negative real rates of interest. As Jeremy Grantham puts it:

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