Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Lowering Interest Rates: A Continuing Trend?

7/14/14 - Interest rates are a large part of measuring an economy's strength, stability, and ability to recover. For the average American, there is no ideal interest rate; it all depends on one's status. For older Americans, relying on the interest accrued from a pension fund or savings account, low interest rates can be devastating, helping very little to increase their principal investment. On the other hand, low interest rates can mean lower mortgage rates, more affordable loans, and improvement of the stock market. In his article, Tom Petruno of the Los Angeles Times investigates interest rates, their effect on the economy, and predictions of future changes.

In most countries, the interest rates are controlled by a main federal banking organization: the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, or the Bank of Japan, to name just a few. These organizations command changes in the short-term interest rate, and as of recently, have been holding them as low as possible, in an attempt to stimulate economic growth in the form of real estate, corporate loans, and stock market investment.

Although the Federal Reserve publicly predicts interest rates to be up to 2.5% by 2016, several members of the policy committee remain skeptical as to the magnitude of this rate increase. While they disagree as to the amount, they seem to concur as to one main idea: America of the post-Great Recession era will take quite a while to regain its previous economic stature. Of the many sources Petruno cites in this article, one message stands out: don't rely on a return to “normal” interest rates, for the economy still has a ways to go.

While central banks control short-term interest rates, such long-term rates as on bonds are affected more by the principle of supply and demand. As demand for bonds decreases, the banks offer higher interest rates as an incentive to increase demand, and as demand increases, banks have more leeway to lower interest rates without affecting sales too drastically. Thus, the interest rates on bonds have been falling lower and lower due to increased consumer demand for such “safer” investments.

According to Petruno, even though interest rates have been at all-time lows, inflation could reverse this trend. As prices and wages increase, long-term interest rates could be driven up markedly by bond investors. According to the Federal Reserve, the current national inflation rate is at target levels, around 2%. While some analysts believe that the inflation rate will continue to increase, in the long run, it appears to remain steady, especially given that wages aren't increasing along with the costs of goods and services. Due to high unemployment, and a dramatic shift to more part-time work, the current rise in prices is predicted to decrease, given that lower wages can't fuel a sustained increase in costs.

In concluding the article, Petruno brings up the following point: while the funneling of money into central banks has not, as of yet, triggered a dramatic improvement in the national economy, such an improvement due to this money could have negative consequences, namely high inflation. It seems like the solution to fixing the American economy relies mainly on time and patience. Interest rates are slowly climbing, and the economy appears to be healing, albeit slowly. Thus, all we can really do is watch and wait.

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