Central Banks

Central banks have cut interest rates 690 times since Lehman Brothers: Is there a way out?

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The top 50 central banks around the world have seen a total of 690 interest rate cuts since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, according to data from JP Morgan Asset Management. While this number means one rate cut every three trading days, analysts have warned that central banks may start to run out of ammunition soon.

"Essentially these rate cuts came into effect to try and stimulate economic growth and to prop up economies post the financial crisis," Alex Dryden, global market strategist at JP Morgan Asset Management, told CNBC via email. However, he warned that central banks are running out of room to maneuver.

"The Bank of Japan, for example, own over 45 percent of the government bond market, over 65 percent of the domestic ETF market and are a top 10 shareholder in 90 percent of listed firms. They have also cut rates into negative territory. There isn't much more they can do."

Markets, however, continue to ride the wave of uncertainty and speculation over whether the world's central banks will either continue to pump in more and more cash into the economy through bond-buying programs known as quantitative easing (QE) or conventional ways such as lowering interest rates to stimulate borrowing.

But as we delve deeper into this world of ultra-low interest rate and easy monetary policy, there are other areas of the economy that could see a knock-on effect. This raises a very big question – will the global economy ever exit this low interest rate environment?

"No easy way out. The world has changed and the level of neutral interest rates has fallen for most countries," Jan von Gerich, chief economist at Nordea, told CNBC via email.

Gerich further explained that the way inflation is responding to growth seems to have changed, which makes monetary policy considerations harder for central bankers.

"The situation varies a lot, though. The Fed is gradually finding at least a partial way out while it is hard to see the European Central Bank (ECB) raising rates before the next recession arrives."

Pre-Lehman vs. Post-Lehman

Eight years ago, U.S. banking giant Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, sending shockwaves across the global financial markets. Eight years on, the banking sector has still not recovered.

While the easy monetary policies from central banks helped bring stability in the economy, the falling interest rates have added further pressure on bank's profitability. Add to that the growing uncertainty around geopolitical events such as U.K.'s vote to leave the European Union and the U.S. elections that saw Donald Trump's elected President.

But will we ever go back to a pre-Lehman era?

"Given the current climate, no. Monetary policy has been over utilized and over stretched over the last few years and a failure by the government to employ responsible fiscal policy to complement central bank policy has led us into an era of cheap credit, low rates but proportionally inadequate growth," Anasakti Thaker, market economist at PhillipCapital UK, told CNBC via email.

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"Given the uncertainty the likes of (Donald) Trump and Brexit bring, both the U.K. and U.S. are unlikely to revert back to pre-Lehman policy and instead will use interest rates to manage inflation risks and provide assurance to nervous markets and consumers."

Thaker further explained that the pre-Lehman policy also was responsible for the crash seen in 2008 and it is unlikely that markets will revert to boom-time policy given the degree of risks that exists now.

Meanwhile, some other analysts think that the global economy learnt a number of lessons post the Lehman crisis and while these may have left some scars, it has also brought in a new era of checks and balances and a better-regulated market.

"Today's economy is a lot like a tortoise. Slow and steady but sturdy and robust. When Lehman Bros. collapsed uncertainty and panic were at very elevated levels," JP Morgan's Dryden told CNBC. "We have risks today (mainly on the political side) but we are a long way away from where we were in 2008."

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