Not all regions were able to benefit from the strong growth witnessed last year to the same extent. On the emerging markets, particularly in Latin America, asset growth slowed due to the turbulence on the local capital and currency markets. By contrast, growth picked up speed in North America (+11.7 percent), Japan (+6.1 percent) and also in western Europe (+5.2 percent). This did not, however, prevent western Europe from falling behind Japan last year and coming bottom of the growth league in 2013, with its chunk of global financial assets shrinking by 1.2 percentage points. In a long-term comparison, too, western Europe is at risk of being sucked into a vortex, at least if we look at developments in real terms, i.e. less the rate of inflation: from this angle, per capita asset growth slips back to 1 percent a year since the end of 2000 - which still puts it behind Japan (1.3 percent p.a.). "In an environment characterized by extremely low interest rates, deflation isn't the biggest problem facing savers", said Michael Heise, Chief Economist at Allianz. "The low inflation rates in Europe reflect necessary real economic adjustments and are boosting citizens' purchasing power. They do not justify any further easing of monetary policy."
In actual fact, the ECB's policy is already having a real impact on households in the eurozone. The low interest rates are not only hindering long-term asset accumulation, but are also having a direct impact on income in the form of lost interest income and reduced interest payments on loans. A hypothetical calculation based on the average interest rate level for the period from 2003 to 2008 can be used to put a figure on these income effects. All in all, German households, with their relatively low levels of debt, are left with substantial losses for the period from 2010 to 2014: the "interest rate losses" add up to just under EUR 23 billion or around EUR 280 per capita. The biggest winners, on the other hand, are primarily the southern Europeans, who have benefited from "interest rate gains" of more than EUR 1,000 per capita on average over this five-year period. "It is not surprising that monetary policy has had this effect", said Heise. "The strain that has been taken off debtors in southern Europe, in particular, is very much in keeping with what was intended. But it is important not to lose sight of the side effects of the policy, especially for German investors and their retirement savings."
Germany – growing slower than the European average
In Germany, gross financial assets grew by 4 percent last year - slower than the European average. Since 2007, the last pre-crisis year, the increase has come in at 15.1 percent, which is exactly in line with the European average. At the same time, Germans savers are the only ones to have upped their saving efforts during this period; in all other European countries, on the other hand, asset accumulation has dropped dramatically. "Wealth development in Germany is truly mediocre in the truest sense of the word", commented Heise. "At the same time, the Germans are above-average savers. But it is also the case that almost nobody invests quite as much money with banks as the Germans do, even though bank interest rates are far lower than in the rest of Europe. German savers would appear to be stuck in crisis mode and shying away from making investment decisions. But the "wait-and-see" policy is tantamount to giving money away. Six years after the collapse of Lehman, it's high time to start thinking about the long term and investing again."
It was not only assets which experienced strong growth worldwide in 2013; debt growth (including mortgage debt) also moved up a gear. At 3.6 percent, debt growth was faster than in any other year since the outbreak of the crisis. Nevertheless, the global debt ratio, i.e. personal liabilities measured as a percentage of nominal economic output, fell again slightly last year, dropping by half a percentage point to 65.1 percent. The drop in the debt ratio since 2009 comes in at 6.4 percentage points. This deleveraging is, however, solely attributable to the developed countries, and first and foremost to the US, where 15.5 percentage points have been sliced off the ratio over the past four years. In the emerging markets, on the other hand, the debt burden is rising more or less continuously, also in relation to economic output, particularly in Asia (excl. Japan): in terms of the regional average, the debt ratio climbed by 2.8 percentage points in 2013 alone, pushing it up to almost 40 percent. In some countries like South Korea or Malaysia, the debt ratio is already well beyond the 80 percent mark - putting it ahead of the US level.