The Fed Paused Rates In August 2018 And This It What It Means For Investment Markets And The Economy

by: Alan Longbon

A Fed rate rise adds to the private sector debt burden and the sector has been spared this additional burden this time around.

One can expect the dollar to maintain its value given the cost of holding it remains the same.

An interest rate hold decision means that an inversion of the yield curve, and subsequent recession, is put off for another three months. The bull market expansion lives on.

This article provides a basic impact assessment of the decision by the FOMC not to raise the Federal Funds Rate [FFR] to 2.25% at its last meeting on 1 August 2018. Before the meeting, I wrote an article on the arguments for and against raising rates and possible impacts. Now those impacts are real and happening.

For the best, the Fed decided not to raise the rate a further 0.25%, as the chart below shows.

What Happens when the Fed Changes Rates?

A movement of the FFR has three broad impacts:

  1. Bank lending costs on borrowed reserves.
  2. Interest burden on private debt
  3. Interest on newly issued Treasury deposits.

These three impacts will be looked at in turn.

Bank Lending Costs

The table below shows the impact of the rate rise on bank reserves advanced by the Fed, via the discount window, when a bank makes a loan.

(Source: Author calculations based on Trading Economics GDP measure)

When a bank creates a loan, it creates a deposit in the recipient's bank account and borrows funds from the Fed to cover the loan amount, if it cannot source them more cheaply in the interbank market. Loans create deposits and generate reserves at the Fed. The Fed creates the reserves on demand as part of the federal payments system.

Every 0.25% rate movement changes the cost of loan funds by $7 billion. The private banks then pass on this rate change to the customer.

A Fed funds rate increase can be seen as a giant, economy-wide tax on borrowers and lenders. Each time the Fed raises the rate 0.25%, it moves $7 billion from the private sector to the government sector.

The Fed is the national government's bank and remits its profits to the national government in the same way that taxes are remitted from the private sector to the government. Because the national government is the issuer of the dollar, it has as many dollars as it wishes to create and does not need to get them from an outside source. The $7 billion income stream to the government from a Fed rate rise is simply deleted from existence in the same way as national taxes are. It is a net reduction in the money supply. It exists on no measure of any money supply after remittance, not M1, M2 or M3.

On balance, the latest decision leaves the $7 billion in the money supply. The impact on commercial banks and their customers depends on the size and compilation of the loans on issue and whether the inbuilt exploding rate trigger in the ARM (Adjusting Rate Mortgages) loans is activated or not.

If the rate change causes banks to be more profitable, this profit can be added to their capital base, and given that banks are capital constrained and not reserve constrained, they can then issue more credit based on the larger capital base.

This process works in the other direction too. When a bank makes a loss, this comes off their capital base, and their lending capacity is reduced. In the GFC, many banks had no capital base left at all and were closed down with catastrophic impacts on the rest of the economy.

Interest Burden on Private Debt

The following table shows the impact of the rate on the stock of private debt in absolute terms and as a percentage of GDP. The current Fed funds rate is highlighted in green.

The bulk of loans are for real estate mortgages. The rate for homes is about 4%. About half of the loans in America are fixed interest, and half are adjusting rate mortgages (ARM), where the interest rate moves up with the Fed funds rate. In the latter case, the banks welcome a Fed funds rate rise, as it can be passed onto the customer, often with built-in 2% jumps past a certain threshold. These are also known as exploding rate loads. A 4% ARM loan can explode to 6% on a 0.25% Fed funds rate increase due to the terms of the loan if the trigger rate is hit.

The danger with rate rises is that eventually a level is hit whereby the loan holders cannot afford the servicing cost and default. The banks then make a loss which comes off their capital base and reduces their lending capacity. Even good performing loans can be called in by the bank if the capital base falls far enough that a strategic adjustment is necessary to comply with government banking regulations or be shut down.

If the losses are large enough, a bank's capital base can be destroyed and then it has to close.

In an extreme case, this causes a run on the banks and a financial crisis like the GFC.

One can have too much of a good thing. As the Fed keeps raising, we move closer to this point.

At present, some over 6% of GDP goes to banks as interest on private loans. Money that could have been spent on real goods and services.

Treasury Deposits

Another impact of a rate change is on Treasuries. If there is a general rate rise, then the yield on Treasuries will also rise as new Treasuries are issued at the new higher rate, and existing ones trade on secondary markets for lower face values.

The following table shows the generalized impact of the rate rise on the stock of Treasuries in absolute terms and as a percentage of GDP. (Treasuries do not have to be issued at all, and that is covered in this article.)

(Source: Author calculations based on Trading Economics Government Debt measure)

The government credits the bank accounts of coupon recipients to pay interest on issued Treasuries. The number in the bank account of the recipient increases upon direction from the Treasury. At that point, new money ("State Money") enters the private sector and adds to the money supply. The money is "keyboarded" into existence by the Treasury. Money is similarly "keyboarded" into existence when the Fed buys and sells bonds to maintain its Federal Funds target rate.

With each 0.25% rate rise, some $53 billion of new money enters the private sector from the government sector. This is the positive side of the equation in that more dollars in the economy grow the economy.

This also runs in reverse when rates go down.

If all the Treasury deposits were at the new rate, then the government would add $424 billion to the economy each year from treasury interest payments alone. The actual figure is lower, as the chart below shows. This is because most of the deposits are earning a lower rate of return than the new ones will do.

This gives the banks more income. As part of the Fed's monetary operations, it is required to swap bank reserves for Treasury deposits until it hits its target rate of 2%. The Fed swaps bank reserves for Treasuries at the new higher rate, and the income stream from the Treasuries flows to the banks and is higher than interest on reserves of 0.25%.

Treasuries are bought and sold as part of interest rate maintenance, and one can say that the so-called "national debt" is equal to the net money supply, and for as long as the Fed carries out interest rate maintenance in this way, the national debt will never be paid off. As an alternative, the Fed could simply set a support rate of 2% on reserves and do away with the open market bond buying and selling operations. Treasuries could be dispensed with altogether then there could be no more "scaremongering" with the national debt.

An interest rate may lift the demand for Treasury deposits. While domestically this is only a portfolio shift, it might improve the current account balance when foreigners buy more Treasuries.

On Balance, What does this All Mean?

There are winners and losers from a Fed rate rise.

Banks: On the one hand, banks must pay more for their borrowed reserves from the Fed when they make a loan. This is bad news for those that hold a lot of fixed-rate loans, as their margin gets squeezed. On the other hand, those banks that hold a lot of ARM loans are anticipating or enjoying the triggering of exploding rates that are much more than the actual Fed funds rate rise. Banks will now be able to swap their excess reserves for Treasuries at the new higher rate and enjoy more income. On balance, the banks come out ahead thanks to the rate rise. This means they can make more profit and expand their capital base and lend even more.

Bank shares and profits are likely to stay much the same for the moment.

Borrowers: Suffer when rates rise and benefit when they fall.

Given the latest decision, borrowers get a reprieve from higher credit costs.

The macroeconomy: The impact on the macroeconomy is dependent on the relative size of the two debt stocks.

Taken to extremes, interest rates can rise so high that so much private sector income is allocated to debt service that the aggregate demand for real goods and services is weakened to recessionary levels.

This is a phenomenon identified by Professor Micheal Hudson. He has named it 'debt deflation.' Deflation in the sense that aggregate demand for real goods and services is deflated by interest and principal repayments on credit created out of thin air.

The chart below shows the stock of private debt and the stock of Treasuries.

(Source: Professor Steve Keen)

When the stock of private debt is larger than the stock of government debt, the impact of a rate rise is a larger removal of dollars from the economy.

The extra $7 billion interest on reserves paid to the Fed by the banks which the Fed then remits to the national government reduces the benefit of the $53 billion of extra interest the government pays back to the private sector in Treasury deposit interest. On balance, the private sector stock of savings has been increased by $46 billion with each Fed funds rate rise.

If private sector debt were less than the stock of Treasury deposits, the impact would have been larger.

If the Fed carries out its plan to increase the Fed funds rate four times this year, it will have set in place a mechanism that adds $212 billion, or 0.73% of GDP, to the economy each year through Treasury interest payments.

The overall impact of this has to be weighed against the impact of dollar creation by banks and also by fiscal policy and also the current account balance. This can be summarised in the sectoral balances after the work of British economist Professor Wynne Godley.

GDP = Federal Spending [G]+ Non-Federal spending [P] + Net Exports [X].

As a percentage of GDP, all three sectors sum to zero and balance each other out.

A chart of the sectoral balance flows is presented below:

(Source: Professor William Mitchell)

At present, the private sector balance is positive, but only weakly so at about 1-2%. This means that:

  1. Businesses and households are saving overall, and net financial assets in the private sector such as stocks, bonds, and real estate can grow in value.
  2. Overall, there is more currency added to the money supply than removed. This is inflationary as it devalues the dollar following the quantity theory of money theory where more money must adjust for the same level of production unless production also grows. Similarly, the dollar is a zero coupon bond whose cost of holding is increased with a FF rate rise, and so should maintain its value in the short term given that rates remain on hold.
  3. Most of the newly minted dollars flow overseas to the external sector in return for the real benefit of goods and services by way of the current account. These tend to be held as US Treasury deposits.
  4. Recessions normally occur when the private sector balance is zero or negative. This has not happened yet. The table below shows how the sectoral balances looked at the peaks and troughs of the last two recessions.

(Source: Trading Economics, FRED and Author calculations based on same)

* Estimate to be updated when the end-of-year numbers are known.

# Forecast based on existing flow rates

Recessions normally occur when the interest rate inverts, this means the FFR is more than the 10-year bond rate. This too has not happened yet but is on a collision course to do so.

The current state of credit creation and sectoral flows are shown in the table below.

(Source: Trading Economics, FRED and Author calculations based on same)

* Estimate to be updated when the end-of-year numbers are known.

# Forecast based on existing flow rates

Summary, Conclusion, and Recommendation

A rate rise decision shortens the economic expansion and brings the inevitable yield curve inversion closer. Every recession since WW2 has been preceded by a yield curve inversion.

We have been spared a rate rise this time around which adds at least three more months onto the life of the present bull market expansion and investors can stay the course for the present time.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.