In focus

Managing wealth in an era of low interest rates


As the world economy emerges from the Covid-19 crisis, financial markets are starting to get anxious. For most of the past year, investors had been reassured by central banks’ support, which included cutting interest rates to near zero and massive purchases of government bonds. Everything changed with the successful roll-out of vaccinations and Joe Biden’s stimulus plans. The stage was set for a strong economic rebound and the withdrawal of firefighting monetary policy measures.

This is where we are today. As with any sudden change in an established market trend, this one caused significant tremors. Bond yields – the measure of the income they pay relative to their price – have risen sharply. Expectations of higher inflation are now causing some concern. Could central banks change their stance much sooner than expected? Could the almost unthinkable happen, and interest rates rise?

Take a step back, however, and this year’s rise in bond yields looks like little more than a blip in an incredible 40-year grind lower. Even after its recent moves, the 10-year US government bond – a key benchmark for financial markets – yields just 1.7%. A decade ago, as the world recovered from the financial crisis of 2008, US yields were twice that. Before the crisis, they were often closer to 6% and at the beginning of my working career they were yielding almost 10%.

This doesn’t yet look like the end of a trend

10-Year treasury yield over the last 40 years

managing-wealth-graph-1.JPG

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Interest rates on deposits, which follow central bank’s interest rate decisions, remain at rock-bottom levels. “The economy is a long way from our goals, and it is likely to take some time for substantial further progress to be achieved,” said Jerome Powell, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, in April 2021. With US unemployment still above 6% – compared to 3.5% before the pandemic hit – there is a way to go before the US central bank even starts thinking about raising interest rates. It’s a similar story at major central banks in other developed markets, such as the UK and Germany.

Lingering concern about Covid-19 also ensures strong demand for safe havens like government bonds, helping to keep yields low.

While there is scope for yields to rise modestly from current levels, we think a number of longer-term factors will keep interest rates and bond yields anchored at low levels. These factors existed before the pandemic – and appear set to continue.

 

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This article is issued by Schroders Wealth Management, which is part of the Schroder Group and a trading name of Schroder & Co. (Hong Kong) Limited, Level 33, Two Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Hong Kong. Licensed and regulated by the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission. Nothing in this document should be deemed to constitute the provision of financial, investment or other professional advice in any way. Past performance is not a guide to future performance. The value of an investment and the income from it may go down as well as up and investors may not get back the amount originally invested.

Contact Schroders Wealth Management

To discuss your wealth management requirements, or to find out more about Schroders Wealth Management and our services, please contact:

Robert Ridland

Robert Ridland

Head of Wealth Management, Hong Kong
Telephone:
robert.ridland@schroders.com
Jelmer Kattevilder

Jelmer Kattevilder

Portfolio Director
Telephone:
jelmer.kattevilder@schroders.com