What Does the Federal Balance Sheet Mean and What's the Impact on You?

What Does the Federal Balance Sheet Mean and What's the Impact on You?

The other week the Federal Reserve announced their plan to start unraveling their 4.5 trillion dollar balance sheet.  Additionally, they declared that short term interest rates will remain unchanged for the time being.  So, what does this actually mean and what impact does it have on you and your retirement preparation?

How did we get here?

In the aftershock of the 2008-2009 recession, the Federal Reserve (basically our nation’s central bank) injected a safety net into our economy.  They purchased trillions of dollars of government bonds and mortgage backed securities.  For nearly ten years, they’ve continued to reinvest the proceeds as these bonds came to maturity. This process has led to the Federal Reserve building and maintaining a very large balance sheet.

Concurrently to this bond buying program (referred to as Quantitative Easing), the Fed has gradually lowered its short-term interest rate.  As of 2016; however, they’ve started increasing this rate again (and have already done two rate increases this year in March and June).

Why did it help?

Many, including myself, believe these tools were paramount to saving our economy.  But, why were these two tools so effective?

Purchasing mortgage back securities was a way of securing the real estate market.  It offered safety against defaults and took the risk away from banks, investors, and individuals.  This, along with purchasing government bonds, injected cash back into our banking system.

Banks with lots of cash enticed individuals to borrow by lowering rates.  They did this because they had less incentive to keep cash due to low short term interest rates.  When interest rates are so low, there is little incentive to put cash in the banks.  We, therefore, saw a massive increase in spending, investing in the stock market, and borrowing for real estate or business ventures.   All this served as a catalyst to rejuvenate our economy.

What’s the plan?

Now comes the tricky part – how do they unravel all of this to normalize their balance sheet while not causing a negative shock to the economy?  The Fed has to be very careful about its movement while also remaining nimble enough to adjust as needed.  They’ve already begun this process by increasing short term interest rates.  They are predicting one more later this year and three more increases in 2018.  Hopefully the economy is strong enough to handle these higher interest rates as the Fed reiterated that their long-term target Federal Funds rate is somewhere between 2.5-3%.

The other major announcement was to start unwinding their massive balance sheet.  The Fed intends to start slow, letting $10 billion a month roll off their books.  Eventually, they’ll be increasing it to $50 billion a month.  This should have the opposite effect of purchasing bonds (less money in the economy).  If you remember your first economic class “supply=demand.”  Thus, when there is less money out there the demand (or cost) goes up.

The Fed will always hold substantial assets, so there is no real fear that they unravel to zero.  Rather, the plan is to let free markets stand on their own two feet by having less manipulation from the Fed.

Related: The Pros and Cons of an Investment in Gold

What’s the impact on me?

It’s easy to see the impacts of interest rates being low – 15 million jobs added since the recession and one of the longest economic expansions in history.  With the recent news about unraveling the Fed’s balance sheet; however, the following thoughts for our clients, their families, and friends should be considered.

  1. Interest rates should increase in the borrowing market.

Recommendation:  If you need to borrow money, or refinance some old debts, now is probably as good a time as ever.

  1. Stocks and bonds will be affected. Unfortunately, no one really knows how.  By going slow, the Fed is trying to provide the least amount of wrinkles through the markets as possible.  That said it’s inevitable something this large will have an impact.

Recommendation:  Look at your diversification.  This is exactly why we diversify; to protect and insulate ourselves from any one segment prohibiting us from reaching our goals.

  1. The real estate market will be impacted as rates increase. Average purchasers will have to spend less on homes when the rates go up.  This can have two outcomes.  One is housing prices become cheaper as an entire purchasing pool can afford less.  The other is the housing market may continue as is if inflation continues to picks up.

Recommendation:  Don’t let the unknown drive a rash decision.  A home is a major purchase and I’d hate to see anyone rush on speculation. (For more information on buying readiness, check out Purchasing a House).  But, if you are ready to purchase, you might as well.  Rates are still historically low.

  1. Inflation should continue to increase and ideally land at the Fed’s 2% target. With the U.S. labor market being tighter than it’s been in years, it’s surprising that inflation hasn’t been higher.  Economists want a 2% level of inflation in an economy. That suggests an expanding economy at full employment.

Recommendation:  Bonds typically have a fixed coupon payment, so they carry purchasing power risk since increasing inflation can erode their interest payments.  We recommend utilizing a mixed bag of bond instruments.  For investors with considerable assets invested in fixed income (bonds), consider using TIPS for a small sleeve as their coupons can increase as inflation rises.

The interesting times ahead

It seems we are getting much more accustomed and immune to unprecedented policy in our economy.  We have done a great job as a country of persevering through the best and worst of times.  Through the continued “normalization” of the Fed’s policy and balance sheet over the next few years, it should present opportunities and challenges alike.  Just make sure you stay educated and keep a long term view.v

Andrew Rosen
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In March 2010, Andrew Rosen joined the Diversified team, bringing with him nine years of financial industry experience. In his role as Advisor, Partner, Andrew forge ... Click for full bio

Most Read IRIS Articles of the Week: March 19-23

Most Read IRIS Articles of the Week: March 19-23

Here’s a look at the Top 11 Most Viewed Articles of the Week on IRIS.xyz, March 19-23, 2018

Click the headline to read the full article.  Enjoy!

1. Multi-Factor or Not Multi-Factor? That Is the Question

Let’s pretend you are a US investor that wants to deploy some of your money overseas.  You think international developed market stocks are attractive relative to US stocks, and you also think the US dollar will decline over the period you intend to hold your investment.  — Chris Shuba

2. The Lies Spread by Bankers About Cryptocurrencies

I had a chat with The Financial Times the other day, and provided lots of background as to why I don’t think cryptocurrencies are the choice of criminals. The comment that was reported was the following ... — Chris Skinner

3. Alternative Investments? You May Need New Shock Absorbers!

During the tumultuous red and green gyrations of the capital markets this year have your clients anxiously called to ask: “What’s going on with my portfolio?” What do you do when the usually smooth ride in your luxury automobile becomes as bumpy as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in the Happiest Place on Earth? What does the average investor do? — Ted Parker

4. Why Fear of Inflation Is Rattling Investors

Inflation is a bad thing, right? It make things more expensive, right? For those of us of, let’s say, a certain vintage, we recall the runaway inflation of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. So why does the Federal Reserve – in charge of managing the country’s currency and value thereof – actually try to create inflation? It’s called the inflation targeting and it matters to your money. — Bill Acheson

5. The Best Retirement Investments for a Steady Stream of Income

As you near your 60’s, your prime earning and saving years will transition into a period of time where you get to enjoy the “fruits of your labor,” a.k.a retirement. We call this segueing from accumulation to decumulation, the period when you will be drawing from your accumulated nest egg. Dana Anspach

6. An Emerging Theme In Thematic Investing

Exchange traded funds (ETFs) are popular vehicles for market participants looking to engage in thematic investing. Thematic investing looks to take advantage of future growth trends, including disruptive technologies. Given that forward-looking approach, stock-picking in the thematic universe is equally as hard, if not harder, than in traditional market segments. — Tom Lydon

7. 8 Winning Questions You Should Be Asking Every Prospect

It’s not enough for your salespeople to be product experts, they also need to be capable of having the kind of conversations that position them as business experts and even strategic resources. — Lisa Rose

8. 10 Steps to Successful Strategic Alliances

Business growth doesn’t come from wishful thinking. As you know, it takes a lot of hard work. The growth of your business is not an option – it is a necessity. Coordinating the right mix of strategies to gain market share and improve client acquisition rates is essential to advance your firm in today’s economy. — Michelle Mosher​​​​​​​

9. Keep It Light: Harnessing Humor for Financial Marketing Success

It’s undoubtedly true that investors’ financial security is no laughing matter, and this is reflected in the stolid, dour, reliable imagery and branding that is, by and large, the industry standard. This is hardly surprising—investors need to believe they’re placing their hard-earned money in the hands of experienced, trustworthy professionals. — Alexandra Levis​​​​​​​

10. Do the Economics of a Move to Independence Really Add Up?

The number one question advisors ask when exploring a move to independence is how the economics compare to accepting a recruiting package from a major firm. It’s certainly a valid concern, because while the recruiting deals being offered by the wirehouses are down, it is still very possible for a top advisor to get a really attractive hard-to-pass-up offer. — Mindy Diamond

11. Four Big Reasons Why Short-Term Muni Bonds Should Excite You

Municipal bonds might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a sexy investment. They don’t typically command news headlines like the stock market or bitcoin. — Frank Holmes

Douglas Heikkinen
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IRIS Co-Founder and Producer of Perspective—a personal look at the industry, and notables who share what they’ve learned, regretted, won, lost and what continues ... Click for full bio