Policy Article

The role of asset prices and interest rates for the resilience of German public finances – a scenario analysis

Kieler Beiträge zur Wirtschaftspolitik, 36 Download PDF

The extremely low interest environment during the 2010s has significantly facilitated the reduction of the gross government debt-to-GDP ratio in Germany in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. The authors note that, it is unclear for how long the period of extremely low interest rates persists, bringing the question of longer-term resilience of public finances towards increasing refinancing cost to the fore. The effect of rising interest rates on public finances largely depends on the causes of low interest rates in the recent years. The study focuses on four cyclical factors on the rate of interest and investigates their impact by means of a scenario analysis: monetary policy and risk premia shocks and investment and price shocks. If higher interest rates are the result of stronger economic growth, then the positive budgetary effect of the latter counteract the increasing interest burden. In this case, higher interest rates do not question the resilience of public finances. By contrast, higher interest rates caused by factors that also lead to weaker economic growth imply significant readjustments of public finances, in particular if the ECB’s monetary stance turns out to be too loose. In this case, the German economy would currently be under the influence of a monetary boom, the correction of which (i.e. a normalization of interest rates) would trigger a recession. Fluctuations in asset prices caused by interest rate fluctuations are likely to play a minor role, as the German tax and transfer system is comparatively insensitive in this respect. One major reason for this is that property price fluctuations translate only to a small extent into changes in income tax revenues.