Is monetary policy less effective when interest rates are persistently low?

BIS Working Papers No 628
April 2017

Is monetary policy less effective in boosting aggregate demand and output during periods of persistently low interest rates? This paper reviews the reasons why this might be the case and the corresponding empirical evidence. Transmission could be weaker for two main reasons: (i) headwinds, which would typically arise in the wake of balance sheet recessions, when interest rates are low; and (ii) inherent non-linearities, which would kick in when interest rates are persistently low and would dampen their impact on spending. Our review of the evidence suggests that headwinds during the recovery from balance-sheet recessions tend to reduce monetary policy effectiveness. At the same time, there is also evidence of inherent non-linearities. That said, disentangling the two types of effect is very hard, not least given the limited extant work on this issue. In addition, there appears to be an independent role for nominal rates in the transmission process, regardless of the level of real (inflation-adjusted) rates.

JEL classification: E43, E52

Keywords: monetary policy, low interest rates, balance-sheet recession, monetary transmission