How Have Low Interest Rates Affected Economies, Governments and Individuals During the Past Few Years?


Late last year, McKinsey & Company released a report that took a closer look at “the distributional affects and risks” of quantitative easing (QE) and low interest rates. In other words, who was affected by QE and low rates and how? 

If you’re an investor with an interest in income, you’ve probably got a pretty good idea about how it affected you! The report found, from 2007 through 2012, households in the United Kingdom and the United States: 

“…together lost $630 billion in net interest income, although the impact varies across groups. Younger households that are net borrowers have benefited, while older households with significant interest-bearing assets have lost income.” 

The other side of that coin is declining yields caused the value of previously-issued bonds to increase. McKinsey estimated corporate and government bonds in the Eurozone, United Kingdom, and United States gained about $16 trillion in value during the period. Housing prices also may have benefited as the cost of mortgage credit fell. 

British and American households weren’t the only ones affected by central bank policies. McKinsey found governments in both regions benefited to the tune of about $1.6 trillion! In part, this was because debt service costs – the money required to cover the payment of interest and principal on debts – was significantly reduced during the period. 

Corporate profits also got a boost from low rates. The study found U.S. and U.K. corporate profits also benefited as companies in each country gained about 5 percent during 2012 because of ultra-low interest rates. Higher profits, unfortunately, did not translate into higher investment possibly because of tighter lending standards and uncertainty over recovery. According to The Economist

“In the United States, net private non-residential investment fell by 80 percent as a percentage of GDP between 2007 and 2009. Although it has recovered since then, U.S. business investment is still at its lowest level as a share of GDP since at least 1947. Investment in Europe is similarly weak.”

Why look at distributional impacts? It helps economists identify risks countries may face in the future. For instance, The Economist estimated governments may see debt service costs increase by as much as 20 percent. In the United States, that would translate into $75 billion annually.