Outside Economics

Interest Rates Dance the Limbo

Posted by Wendell Brock, MBA, ChFC on Fri, Aug 12, 2016

The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury fell to a record low of 1.318 percent in early July, sending bond prices higher throughout the fixed income markets. Bonds have continued their rally since the beginning of the year as the Fed has held off on raising rates, while central banks in Japan and Europe have maintained unprecedented low rates.

Repercussions from Brexit channeled money towards the perceived safety of German government bonds in July, as Germany became the first country in the EU to sell 10-year government bonds with a negative yield at auction. A negative yield means that investors are willing to essentially pay Germany in exchange for holding funds in German bonds. Germany sold  €4.8 billion ($5.3 billion) of 10-year notes at an auction, with a yield of -0.05 %. 


As of this past month there has been a continuous decline in long-term interest rates for 25 years, spanning from 8.3% in 1991 to 1.36% in July for the 10-year U.S. Treasury. Some bond analysts estimate that any continued decline in yields has become much less probable. But we all know, never say never!

With the Fed and its monetary stimulus efforts at capacity, many economists believe that this leaves ample room for fiscal stimulus in the form of lower tax rates. The presidential campaign has brought about the topic of lowering taxes and perhaps at a timely juncture that would help stimulate economic growth where the Fed may not be able to any longer.

A chellenge with this thought, is that this comes at a time when the federal government needs all the money it can get its hands on. (see the article: How Interest Rates Feed the Pig.) Its a fact that lower taxes has proven to increase the the total tax revenue, however to many people lowering taxes is unfair.  

This news on the heals of all the economy has been through since the Great Recession is a clear indicator that the economy has not completely recovered. With intermediate interest rates way below the historical average of 5.5%, this becomes a very serious concern for retirees who depend on their fixed income securities to help pay for their living expenses.

What to Do

Understanding this, the rate at which a person withdraws money from their retirement accounts will have a huge impact on the longevity of that account. People will need to simply save more for retirement and or live on less than originally expected. Both are unpleasant challenges. Getting out of debt will help with both of those challenges, as it frees up cash flow for additional savings and with little to no debt, it requires much less to live on. 

One strategy would be to take out much less during the earlier years of retirement and allow your savings to continue to grow, even for an additional five to seven years. This extra seasoning of your portfolio would make a world of difference.  Those who are preretirees may want to consider to start winding down their spending and try living on much less income, this will allow you to put more in savings and or get more debt paid off. It will also start you on a road of more discipline in your finances.


Sources: Federal Reserve, Bloomberg



Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond, and the cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education.  - Mark Twain

Topics: Economy, retirement, debt, Interest Rates, Fed

How Interest Rates Feed the Pig

Posted by Wendell Brock, MBA, ChFC on Fri, Jul 22, 2016

Interest rates are the economic rain to the world economy. Like rain, when there is too much, it causes flooding and will swamp growth; not enough and a drought ensues then economies don’t thrive. The Fed controls the spicket. Current rates are hurting savers and the retired. While at the same time allowing the government to borrow trillions to grow at dirt cheap rates.

This causes a dilemma: the government needs the cheap interest rates; the retires and savers need higher rates to maintain a shrinking standard of living. This conflict is a problem the world over: what to do about low stagnant interest rates?  

The events in Europe along with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) report released in June indicating that U.S. economic growth would fall short of expectations. This is one reason that prompted the Federal Reserve to subdue its pursuit of any additional rate increases this summer.

Britain’s vote on the EU exit sent U.S. government bond yields to new multi-year lows as well as dimmed trade growth prospects between Europe and the U.S. The dollar’s recent rise is also a headwind for the U.S. since a rise in the dollar’s value drags on U.S. exports; putting downward pressure on U.S. inflation, which is well below the Fed’s 2% target for inflation.united-states-interest-rate.png

The problem here is, as other countries have economic “occurrences” they send money to the U.S. to buy our treasuries, which are perceived to be a safe haven for storing cash. When a flood of money comes in, it lowers the interest rates people are willing to take just to park money. After all, getting something is far better than getting nothing or losing money all together. 

As more flows in - it strengthens the dollar, which also makes it harder for us to export our goods and services to other countries. It does make it cheaper for us to buy stuff from other countries and to travel, but that may not be the current objective.

Concurrently, the IMF report released in June suggested that the U.S. faces economic “headwinds” and “pernicious” trends including a shrinking middle class that could slow growth in the long term. 

Labor’s share of U.S. income is about 5% lower today than it was 15 years ago, while the middle class has shrunk to its smallest size in the past 30 years. Demographic changes are slowing potential growth and that in turn, is affecting business investment and leading to a less dynamic labor force. The IMF is estimating that U.S. GDP will grow 2.2% this year, which is down from 2.4% in 2015. This may seem like a small percent, but it works out to be $36.0 billion out of an $18 trillion economy. This much money could employ 720,000 people at $50,000 per year. That is a lot of money and a lot of middle class jobs!

Economists believe that both of these occurrences will foster an elongated low interest rate environment throughout the domestic and international fixed income markets. When factoring in the need for the federal government to keep borrowing such large amounts of money for both the annual deficit, and the rolling over of previous year’s debt obligations low interest rates help “feed the pig” so to say, causing income pain to the retirees and savers!

So how does this affect you and your investment or retirement portfolio? Low rates are generally good for the stock market, companies are able to borrow more to expand and grow. Now would be a good time to refinance any debt that may have higher rates or better yet, get it paid off. When debt is paid off early it is like earning that same interest rate. So for example you pay off a credit card that charges 18 percent then you have just earned that 18 percent on the balance by removing that future interest payment obligation. This is not to say go borrow a bunch of money at a high rate and then work to pay it off.

Rearranging your portfolio to a more balanced strategy may help with market upsets and continued low rates. Participating in several asset classes will properly diversify your portfolio. For more information click here.  

Tot the extent you can get your own house in order you will be greatly strengthened when the headwinds really hit hard. As the old saying goes, it is nice to “sleep when the wind blows”.

Sources: IMF, Bloomberg, Federal Reserve



 Those who don't understand interest, pay it; those who do, earn it. - Anonymous

Topics: Interest Rates, Fed, Federal Government, IMF

Macro Overview of 3rd Quarter 2015

Posted by Wendell Brock, MBA, ChFC on Wed, Nov 04, 2015

International growth concerns and uncertainty surrounding the Fed’s decision as to when to finally start raising rates continued to roil markets in the 3rd quarter.

The Fed held interest rates steady during a critical meeting in September, signaling that it intended to raise rates towards the end of the year. The economy’s apparent return to normalcy will be tested when a rate hike does eventually take effect.

The Department of Labor released data for the 3rd quarter showing that there were improvements for low-income workers across the country, which tends to accelerate when the economy is close to full output. Historically, the Fed has considered full output to be a catalyst for rising rates in order to stem inflationary pressures driven by increasing wages. Consequently, employment data continues to weigh on the Fed’s decision to raise rates.

Markets reacted to mixed signals from the Fed regarding the timing of its anticipated interest rate hike while economic conditions were still questionable. The Bureau of Labor Statistics may have been contributing to the Fed’s uncertainty as it revised 2nd quarter GDP estimates to a growth rate of 3.9%, up from 3.7%. Such revisions signal a strengthening economy, thus swaying the Fed to a rate rise sooner rather than later. Many economists view a decisive rate increase, a confident attainment of some economic progress.

Many analysts believe that Federal Reserve members have become extremely sensitive to the occurrences in China and the emerging markets, which have been adversely affected by the dollar’s strength. Some propose that the Fed is trying to indirectly minimize the dollar’s strength by keeping interest rates from rising too soon.

Since a stronger dollar has historically been a negative factor for the emerging markets, developing countries such as Brazil and Mexico are taking restrictive actions in order to slow the decline in emerging market currencies.  Brazil implemented sharp interest rate hikes in September while Mexico intervened to sell dollars in order to boost a record low peso. Traditionally, emerging market countries are inclined to raise interest rates in order to stem the decline of their currencies against the U.S. dollar.

It was 7 years ago this September that the financial crisis reached its most critical point when industry behemoths, including Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, were acquired by other institutions.

Commerce Department data released identified construction as the strongest evolving sector of economic growth in September, with construction spending up over 13% for the past 12 months. Construction expenditures have been led by private sector nonresidential building, which includes manufacturing spending that is up considerably over the past year.

Reis, reported in its research that, office space throughout the country became scarcer as the vacancy rate fell to 16.5% in the 3rd quarter. Department of Labor data showing an increase in higher paying professional positions coincides with the increase in demand for office space.

Sources: Fed, Bloomberg, Dept. of Labor, Commerce Dept.


To Remember:

When things go wrong, don't go with them!  - sign on a church


Topics: Interest Rates, Fed, Department of Labor, Macroeconomics

Fed and the Market

Posted by Wendell Brock, MBA, ChFC on Fri, Jun 21, 2013

This week Fed Chairman, Bernanke. made comments about tapering back the stimulus towards the end of the year. These comments have sent the market into a tailspin these past few days. What was once a background supporting role, has now become front and center, and the lead player on the markets Federal Reserve Seal logoworldwide stage. It is now the case if Bernanke sneezes the market gets a cold. The Fed’s tapering plans may be good to get out in the public because maybe the market can focus back on what is really important – the fundamentals of the company stocks that are traded daily rather than the Fed’s involvement. Understanding the tapering is important to the long term investment strategy. There are a few points that are important to know.

Bernanke said that tapering is contingent on continued improvement in the economy and the jobless rate. He described it as easing up on the throttle once the auto reaches cruising speed. This will not happen “until the outlook for the labor market has improved substantially.” The target jobless rate he wants is 6.5% vs. the current jobless rate of 7.6%. 

The next big discussion point was the interest rates – he expects to keep interest rates close to zero for a long time. Currently they are around 25 bps. Bernanke said, “The current level of the federal funds rate target is likely to remain appropriate for a considerable period after asset purchases are concluded.” This will keep borrowing cost very cheap for borrowers and will continue to squeeze bank margins as competition for new loans continues to heat up. The hope here is that companies will find reasons to borrow and expand their payroll. 

Additionally, the tapering plans will be postponed if the economy doesn’t improve as expected in 2014. The target date for the 6.5% unemployment is mid-2014. At the same time 14 of the 19 FOMC members don’t expect to raise interest rates until sometime in 2015 at the earliest. 

This leaves QE3 in place much longer than Wall Street believes making perhaps the fed a new permanent player. There may always be an economic hic-up that causes the Fed to stay involved in some way, keeping the markets artificially propped up. 

Yesterday’s major sell off caused havoc around the glob – making the Fed’s comments and policies the major player not just on Wall Street but in the world. It may be soon that the Fed Chairman becomes the most powerful man in the world instead of the President. After all, most people are more worried about their pocket book then who is president.  

While the market is the great predictor of what it expects to happen in three to six or nine months from now; the current mayhem seems to be an overreaction.  If the underlying economy is truly doing as well as reported from all the government agencies and the company quarterly reports, then things should continue for the next several months to a year moving forward. If the info is not strong and stable, well then, we will see another major move down. What are your thoughts about the economy?

Topics: Fed, Fed Chairman, Market, stimulus


Wendell W. Brock, MBA, ChFC

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