The saver’s dilemma
Low interest rates leave savers with few good options
The covid-19 pandemic has only sharpened the dilemma
IN THE 1980S comedy, “Trading Places”, Jamie Lee Curtis plays a prostitute who has been saving for her future; she has $42,000 “in T-bills, earning interest”. If she followed the same strategy today, she would be disappointed with the return. The one-year Treasury bill yields 0.13%, so her annual interest income would be just $55. If she reinvested the income, it would take more than 530 years for her money to double.
Savers around the world face the same problem. Bank accounts, money-market mutual funds and other short-term instruments used to offer a decent return. Not any more (see chart). Rates are lower in nominal terms than they were 30 years ago because of a long-term decline in inflation, but they are also lower in real terms. The pandemic has made the dilemma acute. This year American, British and German nominal ten-year bond yields have all touched their lowest levels in history.
Savers are likely to respond to this situation in one of three ways. They can save less, and spend more of their incomes. Another approach is to set aside more money, to make up for lower returns. A third option would be to put more savings into risky assets, such as equities, which should deliver a higher return over the long run.
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