interest rate policy

Odd Couple (of Goals)

Surveys indicate the public’s trust in the Federal Reserve has been declining over time. We totally understand this result.

The Federal Reserve, like other central banks around the world, plays a significant role in setting monetary policy. It operates under mandates written in law to promote full employment and price stability. Presumably, most people would be in favor of these worthy objects.

In practice, however, it seeks to raise the cost of living by 2% every year: that’s the actual effect of the goal we typically hear about, to hit an “inflation target of 2%.” That term is a less clear way of saying “raise the cost of living.” How many of us actually want that?

Now add in Federal Reserve policy on interest rates: keep them near zero for the next few years. So if the cost of living is rising and we earn next to nothing on our savings, then we are really going backward in purchasing power. A dollar of savings today plus zero interest for the next year and we will be short by 2 cents to buy the same amount of goods a year from now. That is a risk to our financial position.

This really is an odd couple of goals. It is rough on savers and people on fixed incomes.

The Federal Reserve has its rationale for all this, of course. It believes that a little inflation is good for the economy and that we are prone to have our spending manipulated by its policies for the short-term benefit of the economy. A better economy means more jobs, which is generally good for each of us.

We have our doubts about the logic. Fortunately, we can try to invest to take advantage of the opportunities these policies present. If we are willing to live with fluctuations in value, we may still be able to earn returns.

We believe it was simpler when savings had positive returns, but we are here to make the most of it.

Clients, if you would like to talk about the risks and rewards of investing and saving, please email us or call.

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The Inflation Powder Keg


A few weeks ago, the Federal Reserve issued a policy statement greenlighting more interest rate hikes despite fears of inflation.1 For years the Fed has struggled to keep inflation up to its target rate of 2%, and now that it is there, it looks likely to us that the Fed may overshoot the target entirely.

Interest rates and inflation tend to go hand in hand. When interest rates are high, borrowers can earn more money to spend, creating upward price pressures. When inflation is high, lenders try to raise rates to keep ahead of inflation. As rates continue to rise, you can often expect inflation to do the same.

Worse, there are other pressures looming on the horizon that we think may contribute even more to inflation. A strong economic cycle and robust jobs market may often bring higher inflation. As unemployment drops, workers become harder to find. Many companies might have to offer higher wages to get the employees they need, forcing them to raise prices—at the same time that workers have more money to spend from higher wages. Rising prices and rising wages equals inflation.

We also expect more price pressure to arrive from overseas. The trade war that the current administration seems bent on fighting shows no signs of cooling off. When you raise taxes on a product, such as a tariff on imports, inevitably the price may go up to pay for the taxes.

Tariffs create knock-on effects, as well. Many products manufactured inside the U.S. use materials imported from overseas that are subject to tariffs, so domestic products may also face rising prices. And domestic companies that are fortunate enough to dodge the tariffs entirely may still raise their prices opportunistically: with the prices of other goods rising, they have an opportunity to increase prices and profits without hurting themselves as much competitively.

Once again, where you have rising prices, you have inflation. Put it all together and the economy may be sitting on a powder keg of explosive inflation pressure. We do not know when or if the powder may exploded, but we cannot afford to ignore it.

We have gotten so used to low inflation rates in the past decade that it is easy to pretend they will last forever. Sooner or later, we expect some investors to be burned by this mindset. We want to do what we can to avoid being among them. Clients, if you have any concerns about how inflation may affect your portfolio or investment strategy please call us.

Notes and References

1:Press Release, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve: Accessed June 28, 2018.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.


Screaming Toddlers and the Federal Reserve

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / kondrytskyi

How many times have you read how easy it is to lose weight or build wealth or improve your health simply by developing your capacity for delayed gratification? Relax, we aren’t here to hector you or lecture you. Instead, we would like to explain how and why defective but popular policies are going to cost our future selves.

Resisting the temptation for a smaller but immediate reward in order to gain a larger or more enduring reward later—that is the concept of delayed gratification. The ability to exercise it has been linked to improvements in physical health, mental health, social networks, and wealth. In an economic sense, deferred spending (or saving) is positive because it builds capital that can make us more productive, with potentially higher income and net worth in the future.

Toddlers generally lack a firm concept of “later.” When one decides that a lollipop is needed, talk of waiting until after dinner or tomorrow doesn’t really fly. If you know why they call toddlerhood the “Terrible Twos,” you understand that tantrums work against the idea of delayed gratification.

Our Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world are impatient with the pace of economic growth. One of the supposed “problems” they’ve identified is that we are not spending enough. The savings rate—the part of our incomes that we do not spend—is higher than it has been for quite a while. The Fed knows we could spend more money if we wanted to, but we are stubbornly saving it.

Our economy will be stronger in the future because collectively we are exercising delayed gratification with our money. But the immediate gratification of faster economic growth right now is being sacrificed so that you and I can have stronger balance sheets, less debt, and more money on hand.

You may have noticed that the Zero Interest Rate Policy has drastically reduced the return on savings. And now, in the next step, some central banks are fostering negative interest rates. It is hard to think about, so let’s look at an example. At negative interest rates, you might buy a $10,000 CD and get back only $9,900 at maturity.

Why would the “experts” inflict this upon us? In order to make us spend money instead of saving it. It is like the Zero Interest Rate Policy, only worse. In other words, the central banks are like toddlers who have seen the lollipop and want the lollipop and it better happen NOW!

The Federal Reserve Board has members of varying opinions: some are like toddlers, some behave as adults. Thankfully nobody has begun to institute negative interest rates in the United States.

Our slipping national capacity for delayed gratification is a problem at the leadership level. We want you to know how this might affect you. We are also paying attention and working hard to figure out what we should own, and why, in our investments.

As always, please write or call if you would like to discuss this or other pertinent issues.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

The economic forecasts set forth in the presentation may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.