Dearth of capital investment

Interesting graph from RBA governor Glenn Stevens.

A striking feature of the global economy, according to World Bank and OECD data, is the low rate of capital investment spending by businesses. In fact, the rate of investment to GDP seems to have had a downward trend for a long time.

One potential explanation is that there is a dearth of profitable investment opportunities. But another feature that catches one’s eye is that, post-crisis, the earnings yield on listed companies seems to have remained where it has historically been for a long time, even as the return on safe assets has collapsed to be close to zero …..

US Australia Yields

Perhaps this is partly explained by more sense of risk attached to future earnings, and/or a lower expected growth rate of future earnings.

Or it might be explained simply by stickiness in the sorts of “hurdle rates” that decision makers expect investments to clear. I cannot speak about US corporates, but this would seem to be consistent with the observation that we tend to hear from Australian liaison contacts that the hurdle rates of return that boards of directors apply to investment propositions have not shifted, despite the exceptionally low returns available on low-risk assets.

What this illustrates is the limits of monetary policy to restore economic growth.

Such [monetary] policies are, then, working through the channels available to them to support demand. But these channels are financial in nature. They don’t directly create demand in the way that, for example, government fiscal actions do……

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