Negative interest rates eliminate the incentive to deposit money in European banks. Photo: iStock

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi pledged that European short-term interest rates would remain negative until late in 2019. Draghi dismissed complaints that negative interest rates penalize savers. Savers, he said, don’t have to leave their money in bank deposits: They can buy other assets. Draghi, in so many words, told Europeans to go out and buy stocks, and the Euro Stoxx 50 Index obligingly rose by 1.4%.

It isn’t so simple, to be sure. In Germany, where Europe’s biggest population of savers live, the price of residential real estate has risen by 40% during the past five years, a pace nearly as torrid as America’s housing price bubble of 1998-2007. Lower-income Germans suddenly find themselves priced out of urban markets, and that has become a hot political issue in many parts of the country. Europeans are not generally equity investors by habit, for that matter; only 10% of Germans own stocks directly or indirectly.

European equities, for that matter, have their own issues. The banks have underperformed miserably and remain vulnerable to the sort of shock that Italy delivered last week. The great German industrial companies make money, but their markets in the rest of the EC are saturated and orders are falling.

Asia Unhedged isn’t inclined to take Draghi’s advice. With European growth slowing sharply, we’re more confident about Asian stock markets.

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