Visualizing the 700-Year Decline of Interest Rates
How far can interest rates fall?
Currently, many sovereign rates sit in negative territory, and there is an unprecedented $10 trillion in negative-yielding debt. This new interest rate climate has many observers wondering where the bottom truly lies.
Today’s graphic from Paul Schmelzing, visiting scholar at the Bank of England (BOE), shows how global real interest rates have experienced an average annual decline of -0.0196% (-1.96 basis points) throughout the past eight centuries.
The Evidence on Falling Rates
Collecting data from across 78% of total advanced economy GDP over the time frame, Schmelzing shows that real rates* have witnessed a negative historical slope spanning back to the 1300s.
Displayed across the graph is a series of personal nominal loans made to sovereign establishments, along with their nominal loan rates. Some from the 14th century, for example, had nominal rates of 35%. By contrast, key nominal loan rates had fallen to 6% by the mid 1800s.
Centennial Averages of Real Long-Term “Safe-Asset”† Rates From 1311-2018
*Real rates take inflation into account, and are calculated as follows: nominal rate – inflation = real rate.
†Safe assets are issued from global financial powers
Starting in 1311, data from the report shows how average real rates moved from 5.1% in the 1300s down to an average of 2% in the 1900s.
The average real rate between 2000-2018 stands at 1.3%.
Why have interest rates been trending downward for so long?
Here are the three prevailing theories as to why they’re dropping:
1. Productivity Growth
Since 1970, productivity growth has slowed. A nation’s productive capacity is determined by a number of factors, including labor force participation and economic output.
If total economic output shrinks, real rates will decline too, theory suggests. Lower productivity growth leads to lower wage growth expectations.
In addition, lower productivity growth means less business investment, therefore a lower demand for capital. This in turn causes the lower interest rates.
Demographics impact interest rates on a number of levels. The aging population—paired with declining fertility levels—result in higher savings rates, longer life expectancies, and lower labor force participation rates.
In the U.S., baby boomers are retiring at a pace of 10,000 people per day, and other advanced economies are also seeing comparable growth in retirees. Theory suggests that this creates downward pressure on real interest rates, as the number of people in the workforce declines.
3. Economic Growth
Dampened economic growth can also have a negative impact on future earnings, pushing down the real interest rate in the process. Since 1961, GDP growth among OECD countries has dropped from 4.3% to 3% in 2018.
Larry Summers referred to this sloping trend since the 1970s as “secular stagnation” during an International Monetary Fund conference in 2013.
Secular stagnation occurs when the economy is faced with persistently lagging economic health. One possible way to address a declining interest rate conundrum, Summers has suggested, is through expansionary government spending.
Bond Yields Declining
According to the report, another trend has coincided with falling interest rates: declining bond yields.
Since the 1300s, global nominal bonds yields have dropped from over 14% to around 2%.
The graph illustrates how real interest rates and bond yields appear to slope across a similar trend line. While it may seem remarkable that interest rates keep falling, this phenomenon shows that a broader trend may be occurring—across centuries, asset classes, and fiscal regimes.
In fact, the historical record would imply that we will see ever new record lows in real rates in future business cycles in the 2020s/30s
Although this may be fortunate for debt-seekers, it can create challenges for fixed income investors—who may seek alternatives strategies with higher yield potential instead.
Visualizing Portfolio Return Expectations, by Country
This graphic shows the gap in portfolio return expectations between investors and advisors around the world, revealing a range of market outlooks.
Visualizing Portfolio Return Expectations, by Country
How do investors’ return expectations differ from those of advisors? How does this expectation gap shift across countries?
Despite 2022 being the worst year for stock markets in over a decade, investors around the world appear confident about the long-term performance of their portfolios. These convictions point towards resilience across global economies, driven by strong labor markets and moderating inflation.
While advisors are optimistic, their expectations are more conservative overall.
This graphic shows the return expectation gap by country between investors and financial professionals in 2023, based on data from Natixis.
Expectation Gap by Country
Below, we show the return expectation gap by country, based on a survey of 8,550 investors and 2,700 financial professionals:
|🇭🇰 Hong Kong SAR||12.4%||7.6%||1.6X|
Investors in the U.S. have the highest long-term annual return expectations, at 15.6%. The U.S. also has the highest expectations gap across countries, with investors’ expectations more than double that of advisors.
Likely influencing investor convictions are the outsized returns seen in the last decade, led by big tech. This year is no exception, as a handful of tech giants are seeing soaring returns, lifting the overall market.
From a broader perspective, the S&P 500 has returned 11.5% on average annually since 1928.
Following next in line were investors in Chile and Mexico with return expectations of 15.1% and 14.7%, respectively. Unlike many global markets, the MSCI Chile Index posted double-digit returns in 2022.
Global financial hub, Singapore, has the lowest expectations gap across countries.
Investors in the UK and Europe, have the most moderate return expectations overall. Confidence has been weighed down by geopolitical tensions, high interest rates, and dismal economic data.
Return Expectations Across Asset Classes
What are the expected returns for different asset classes over the next decade?
A separate report by Vanguard used a quantitative model to forecast returns through to 2033. For U.S. equities, it projects 4.1-6.1% in annualized returns. Global equities are forecast to have 6.4-8.4% returns, outperforming U.S. stocks over the next decade.
Bonds, meanwhile, are forecast to see 3.6-4.6% annualized returns for the U.S. aggregate market, while U.S. Treasuries are projected to average 3.3-4.3% annually.
While it’s impossible to predict the future, we can see a clear expectation gap not only between countries, but between advisors, clients, and other models. Factors such as inflation, interest rates, and the ability for countries to weather economic headwinds will likely have a significant influence on future portfolio returns.
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