Low interest rates a ‘major source of concern’ says German financial watchdog

Key Points
  • German financial regulator president warns of 'major' consequences of low interest rates
  • Chorus of financial services grandees strikes cautious tone over asset prices
Still in research mode with trying to understand cryptocurrencies: BaFin

The continued low interest environment in key markets such as Europe, the U.S. and the U.K. is a "major source of concern", according to Felix Hufeld, the president of the German financial regulatory authority.

Alluding to the results of a recent survey, the authority over which he presides carried out alongside staff at Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank, Hufeld described the effect on domestic banks.

"The impact is massive and is creeping into the balance sheets more and more. The longer it continues, the higher the risk for a change of interest rates is increasing as well," he warned, speaking from the Handelsblatt annual banking summit in Frankfurt on Thursday.

His wariness comes despite his acknowledgment that the banking system has become much more solid than it was 10 years ago when the financial crisis broke out.

"Both the amount as well as the quality of capital has been massively increased. Risk management procedures have been improved, governance procedures have been improved. Remuneration has been curbed – so all sorts of things - a very wide range of things have been done," he explained before sounding a note of caution.

BaFin president: We can step in, in case real bubble emerges

"But one thing should be clear - no regulatory system and no financial market in the world is invulnerable. There can be and there will be new crises coming up somewhere in the future," Hufeld declared, pointing to real estate as the most notable cause for concern.

The BaFin president's comments echoed those of fellow Handelsblatt summit participants such as Deutsche Bank chief executive officer (CEO) John Cryan and Goldman Sachs's CEO Lloyd Blankfein.

Cryan joined Hufeld in warning of the possibility of bubbles forming in certain asset classes, adding, "If you look at the higher risk end of the market, I don't think you get the right reward for the risk you're taking right now."

Blankfein turned to yield levels to express his unease, saying, "When yields on corporate bonds are lower than dividends on stocks, that unnerves me."