Who Wins (and Loses) When The Fed Raises Rates
The Federal Reserve raised interest rates twice this year, and likely will do it five more times before 2020. Tweaking the central bank’s best-known economic control means different things for different people, but the Fed governors’ intention to keep raising rates, if nothing else, shows that they’re eyeing the long game. “They want to set economic policy to keep the boom going,” said James Bone, executive vice president and chief financial officer at FNCB Bank in Dunmore. “If they go too far, they could potentially cause the recession.” And another economic downturn, he says, is something time shows should happen soon after about a decade of steady growth. Recessions typically strike every seven to 12 years. “Everybody is waiting for the next shoe to drop, which is why I think the Fed is accelerating the increases,” Bone said. “The Fed has to have some tools.” He called Northeast Pennsylvania a “low- to no-growth” area compared to other booming metros such as the San Francisco Bay area or New York City. But that has its perks. “I’d love to tell you we’re a high-growth market — we’re not,” he said. “The good news is, we never see the big booms to the extent you see in other markets; we also usually don’t see the fall and peril that you see on the other side.” In June, the Fed raised the federal funds rate a quarter of a point to 2 percent. It uses the economic lever to balance inflation. Functionally, the benchmark sets interest rates that banks pay when borrowing to satisfy cash-on-hand requirements at the end of business each day. For the consumer, it means they could pay more when borrowing money for a car, college or to start a business. Earlier this month, state Department of Banking and Securities Secretary Robin L. Wiessmann advised consumers to be wary of how the Fed’s decision could affect financial decisions. “Raising the target range can be a sign that the overall economy is doing well, and may mean a better return on savings and investments,” she said. “However, it can also affect the cost to consumers for every day borrowing for mortgages, credit cards and student loans.” The federal funds rate indirectly affects new homeowners, and while interest rates are rising, it’s still a buyer’s market, according to one investment adviser. “While rates are going up, it’s still an active market real estate-wise,” said Frank Subasic of Clarks Summit. He is Wells Fargo’s regional brokerage manager in the northeast and Lehigh Valley. “Relatively speaking rates are still historically pretty good,” he said. Pinning down just who wins and loses when the Fed raises rates is complicated. “When interest rates are higher, it’s better for banks,” Bone said. “Now is it better for the consumer? Yes and no.” The federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed in November, introduced a wild card. Consumers generally won’t know right away whether they can afford higher interest rates. More clarity should come after an annual cycle reveals just how it affects each individual’s bottom line, Bone said. Both bankers say that, while savings instruments such as bonds and certificates of deposit still aren’t producing great returns for savers, they’re still important to a balanced investment strategy. “You still want to have a properly diversified and allocated portfolio,” Subasic said, explaining that equity markets are changing and money spread across a well-planned strata of funds, including lower-yield money market accounts, begets stability. “The balance and diversification still needs to be there despite somewhat lower interest rates,” he said. Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9131; @jon_oc on Twitter Bankers say tax reform in 2017 makes gauging the immediate and long-term effects of rising interest rates unclear. Here’s who typically wins and loses when the Federal Reserve raises the federal funds rate. Winners Savers: Interest rates on savings accounts long have failed to keep pace with inflation. However, savers who put their money in CDs, savings accounts and Treasury bonds should see marginally larger returns. Banks: Higher interest rates mean banks earn more on interest. Losers College students: New students borrowing money will pay more in interest. College graduates with fixed-rate loans won’t be affected. New small-business owners with bad credit: Credit rating is everything. New small-business owners with good credit can shop for a better rate. Credit card users: Those who don’t pay down their balances every month will pay more in interest. New car buyers: Shoppers with sterling credit will have an easier time getting lower car loan rates than those with spotty credit, but the state Department of Banking and Securities warns that the zero-percent interest loans for well-qualified buyers will be harder to come by.