If only rates were as buoyant

BANKS the world over are groaning under the burden of low, even negative, interest rates. The gripes from Germany are among the loudest. In March, when the European Central Bank cut its main lending rate to zero and its deposit rate to -0.4%, the head of the savings banks’ association called the policy “dangerous”. At the co-operative banks’ annual conference this month, a Bundesbank official earned loud applause just for not being from the ECB.

Germany’s banking system comprises three “pillars”. In the private-sector column, Deutsche Bank, the country’s biggest, expects no profit this year. That is mainly because of its investment-banking woes, but low interest rates have also weighed it down: it wants to sell Postbank, a retail operation it took over in 2010. Commerzbank, ranked second, specialises in serving the Mittelstand, Germany’s battalion of family-owned firms. It has felt the interest-rate squeeze even more. Analysts at Morgan Stanley place it among the worst-hit of Europe’s listed lenders.

Most Germans, however, entrust their...Continue reading