The growth trend has been declining in many mature economies not just since the crisis, but for several decades. This slowdown in growth has led to lower long-term interest rates. The structural causes of this trend of slowing growth is a subject of controversy among specialists. Demographic and technological developments are mentioned, as are the effects of the financial cycle, which may be out of sync with the business cycles. I do not want to pre-empt this ongoing discussion. Instead, I would like to focus on two issues, which in the current context are very relevant from a monetary policy perspective – regardless of the structural causes underlying the weak economic growth.
The financial sector is on the brink of collapse. The country that probably gave the English-speaking world the word for bank – medieval Italian merchants traded with each other on a bench known as banca – has a €360bn problem in its fragmented banking sector. This is the amount of non-performing loans, loans on which customer’s repayments have fallen behind.