Treasury Rates Decline As Corporate Earnings Disappoint
Inflation continues to deplete consumer spending power. This trend aligns with some very interesting reports from AT&T on the increase in late payments and rising defaults on smartphones. Since many of us can’t live without our smartphones for work or social interaction, failure to pay smartphone bills is concerning. It also suggests the economy may be worse off than many economists believed. Credit balances rise along with other loan types like non-performing auto loans and BNPL (buy now and pay later). The massive stimulus that was pumped into the market appears to have left the economy to work towards normalization while also battling high inflation and slowing growth. Many layoffs in the banking business are being announced. I expect unemployment to rise in the coming months as companies expand layoffs and banks pull back on lending. The recession is here, in my opinion. The big unknown is the Fed’s strategy to combat persistent inflation in a slowing economy.
The Fed’s Big Squeeze
The haste with which the Fed has risen and may continue to raise short-term interest rates is squeezing all but the biggest banks. This squeeze is distressing for housing as banks pull back on LTVs, Cash-Out Refinances, and Investment Property Loans. Prices will need to adjust to the combination of higher interest rates and tighter bank guidelines. Mortgage banks that have filled the void on the more niche product offerings are also being affected. The one silver lining in all of this? There is a dramatic increase in housing inventory from very low levels of supply. There are many prospective buyers who have been waiting to buy for quite some time. Their time may be here in the upcoming months.
The ECB raised rates and now short-term interest rates are no longer zero. Personally, I never understand negative interest rates. As an observer, why would you lend money to get less of a return in the future? As we witness this all in real-time, the winding down of easy money policies and as central banks experiment with negative interest rates, remember the old saying “it doesn’t make sense.” Should inflation persist and the recession be deeper and longer than forecasted, central bankers in the developed world should remember the damage easy money policies have historically resulted in. While we all loved zero rates (or near zero or negative in some countries), the use of these policies is so destructive that it would be wiser to shelve them for future generations. Basic finance requires a discount rate to calculate risk properly. Ultra-low interest rates increase wealth and risk-taking, while rates remain low. The flip side is what happens when rates rise and inflation becomes unanchored, as we are experiencing today. Wealth is destroyed, confidence is eroded, and the most fragile in our society suffer through the high prices of basic necessities. Free money and zero interest rates have consequences.