Complacency about low rates is ‘dangerous’: Clifford Capital Holdings

SINGAPORE — Complacency about the low interest rate environment and abundant liquidity in the market is “dangerous,” the deputy chairman of a financial services company said this week.

“The bifurcation that bothers me the most is the one between the health of the global economy and the health of the global population on the one hand, and the state of the capital markets on the other,” said Sanjiv Misra of Clifford Capital Holdings.

“The first is in dire straits and the latter is roaring ahead as though we were experiencing one of the greatest growth spurts in recent years,” he told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” at the Singapore Summit on Tuesday. Countries around the world are still fighting the coronavirus outbreak, but the stock market has recovered, with the S&P 500 closing at a record high in August.

Ultimately, when the cost of capital drops as precipitously as it has, that’s a precursor to unwise investment decisions, whether … fixed asset expenditure or in terms of public markets investing.

Sanjiv Misra

Clifford Capital Holdings

Misra said the bridge between the two sides is the “wall of liquidity” that has been unleashed by central banks such as the U.S. Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank in a bid to support the economy as the coronavirus spread. That has led to “enormous money supply-driven asset inflation,” with the stock market being the “single most visible representative” of it.

He noted that in the U.S., the stock market capitalization-to-GDP ratio is at a 50-year high, and the market cap-to-liquidity ratio is double that of the global average. “The difference … is manifested in that liquidity boom, which is occasioned mainly by this expectation that interest rates are going to stay low for a very long time,” he said.

“I do agree that this complacency is dangerous,” said Misra.

Consequences of low rates

Besides concerns about asset bubbles and price discovery, an extended period of extremely low interest rates can also lead to “unwise” choices.

“Ultimately, when the cost of capital drops as precipitously as it has, that’s a precursor to unwise investment decisions, whether … fixed asset expenditure or in terms of public markets investing,” he said.

Misra acknowledged that low rates were “essential” and “the only salvation” for the global economy in March and April amid the health crisis, but said monetary and fiscal measures would need to be recalibrated at some point.

The key question is when governments should think about taking the money in the system and redistributing it or investing it in real assets, he said. Such investments can lead to “productive expenditure and the generation of jobs and incomes” over time, he added.

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