Feeling Negative

Below Zero Freezes Out German Companies

Motel One Hotel_Motel One Pressefoto
The Motel One hotel chain is struggling with the less than zero interest rates.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The strange world of negative interest rates is here to stay, for now. Banks are now passing on the cost to German companies and wealthy individuals.

  • Facts


    • The European Central Bank first introduced negative interest rates in summer 2014, and has been gradually extending the practice.
    • The ECB base rate now stands at -0.2 percent, and ECB president, Mario Draghi, promises to keep rates this low for the foreseeable future.
    • Commercial banks are passing on negative rates to large corporate clients and increasingly to smaller businesses too.
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With negative interest rates now firmly a fixture on the financial landscape, successful companies are in effect being punished by the banks. Dieter Müller, chief executive of the hotel chain Motel One, knows all about it. Last year the firm generated revenues of €322 million (about $360 million), and profits of €77 million. That kind of success left the company with around €133 million in liquid assets at the end of the year. But it also created a problem: Motel One’s bank is now charging companies which have more than €20 million in their accounts. Mr. Müller was left scrambling to find a solution.

There have been a lot of awkward phone calls made recently by banks to their clients, telling them them that negative interest rates are going to be imposed on their deposits: in other words, the bank will charge the company to deposit money. Commerzbank is already doing it. So is Deutsche Bank. Even some of Germany’s large publicly-owned savings banks, known as Sparkassen, are doing it. “They already charge negative interest rates, between -0.3 percent and -0.5 percent, on accounts with an average balance of more than €5 million,” said Georg Ehrhart, a partner at Schwabe, Ley and Greiner, a consulting firm specializing in wealth management.

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