On January 30, 2019 the Federal Reserve said that it would keep its target range for its benchmark interest rate at 2.25% to 2.5%, the range it had announced at its meeting on December 19, 2018. In September, the Fed raised interest rates by 25 basis points to current levels, the highest recorded since April 2008.
When interest rates increase, there are real-world effects on the ways that consumers and businesses can access credit to make necessary purchases and plan their finances. This article explores how consumers will pay more for the capital required to make purchases and why businesses will face higher costs tied to expanding their operations and funding payrolls when the Federal Reserve increases the target rate. However, the preceding entities are not the only ones that suffer due to higher costs, as this article explains.
The recent rise in the Fed funds rate will likely cause a ripple effect on the borrowing costs for consumers and businesses that want to access credit based on the U.S. dollar.
The Prime Rate
A hike in the Fed's rate immediately fueled a jump in the prime rate (referred to by the Fed as the Bank Prime Loan Rate), which represents the credit rate that banks extend to their most credit-worthy customers. This rate is the one on which other forms of consumer credit are based, as a higher prime rate means that banks will increase fixed, and variable-rate borrowing costs when assessing risk on less credit-worthy companies and consumers.
Credit Card Rates
Working off the prime rate, banks will determine how creditworthy other individuals are based on their risk profile. Rates will be affected for credit cards and other loans as both require extensive risk-profiling of consumers seeking credit to make purchases. Short-term borrowing will have higher rates than those considered long-term.
Money market and certificate of deposit (CD) rates increase due to the tick up of the prime rate. In theory, that should boost savings among consumers and businesses as they can generate a higher return on their savings. On the other hand, the effect may be that anyone with a debt burden would instead seek to pay off their financial obligations to offset the higher variable rates tied to credit cards, home loans, or other debt instruments.
U.S. National Debt
A hike in interest rates boosts the borrowing costs for the U.S. government, fueling an increase in the national debt. A report from 2015 by the Congressional Budget Office and Dean Baker, a director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, estimated that the U.S. government may end up paying $2.9 trillion more over the next decade due to increases in the interest rate, than it would have if the rates had stayed near zero.
Auto Loan Rates
Auto companies have benefited immensely from the Fed’s zero-interest-rate policy, but rising benchmark rates will have an incremental impact. Surprisingly, auto loans have not shifted much since the Federal Reserve's announcement because they are long-term loans.
A sign of a rate hike can send home borrowers rushing to close on a deal for a fixed loan rate on a new home. However, mortgage rates traditionally fluctuate more in tandem with the yield of domestic 10-year Treasury notes, which are largely affected by inflation rates.
Goldman Sachs has noted that when interest rates rise, it's good news for banking sector profits. But for the rest of the global business sector, a rate hike carves into profitability. That’s because the cost of capital required to expand goes higher. That could be terrible news for a market that is currently in an earnings recession.
Higher interest rates and higher inflation typically cool demand in the housing sector. On a 30-year loan at 4.65%, home buyers can currently anticipate at least 60% in interest payments over the duration of their investment. Any uptick is surely a deterrent to acquiring the long-term investment former President George W. Bush once described as central to the American Dream.
A rise in borrowing costs traditionally weighs on consumer spending. Both higher credit card rates and higher savings rates due to better bank rates provide fuel a downturn in consumer impulse purchasing.
Forces Behind Interest Rates
Stocks That Perform Best When Interest Rates Rise
Although profitability on a broader scale can slip when interest rates rise, an uptick is typically good for companies that do the bulk of their business in the United States. That is because local products become more attractive due to the stronger U.S. dollar. That rising dollar has a negative effect on companies that do a significant amount of business on the international markets. As the U.S. dollar rises—bolstered by higher interest rates—against foreign currencies, companies abroad see their sales decline in real terms. Companies like Microsoft Corporation, Hershey, Caterpillar, and Johnson&Johnson have all, at one point, warned about the impact of the rising dollar on their profitability.
Rate hikes are particularly positive for the financial sector. Bank stocks tend to perform favorably in times of rising hikes.
The Federal Reserve first kicked off its process of monetary policy normalization in December 2015 and raised the Federal funds rate. December's rate hike was the ninth since then.