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Opinion
Jim Bianco

Negative Interest Rates Threaten the Financial System

Markets may need to be rebuilt on a new set of assumptions, but we don’t know what those should be or how they would work.

Negative rates in the U.S. would have profound implications for markets.

Negative rates in the U.S. would have profound implications for markets.

Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan recently said he wouldn’t be surprised if yields on U.S. bonds turned negative and if they do, it wouldn’t be “that big a of a deal.” That seems to be a sentiment widely held in central banking circles these days, but it’s wrong. Negative interest rates represent a threat to the financial system.

To understand why, let’s start with the existing fractional reserve banking system, which is more than a century old. For every dollar that goes into a bank, some set amount (usually about 10%) must go into a reserve account to be overseen by the central bank. The rest is either lent out or used to buy securities.